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#istandwithahmed: Social Media is Telling Irving ISD What Time It Is

September 17, 2015 By Jeff King

Ahmed Mohamed’s Monday

On Monday morning 14 year-old Ahmed Mohamed, a freshman at MacArthur High School, left his home in Irving, Texas with a homemade digital alarm clock in his bag that he had fashioned from a pencil box and spare parts.  He wanted to show his teacher what he had built.  I could not help but compare him to Data from The Goonies, only smarter (if you don’t know this reference, then you were not a kid in the 1980’s and you’re missing out on some valuable life lessons[1])


Instead of praising Ahmed for his ingenuity and embracing his creativity and intellectual initiative, the school called the police.   Ahmed was handcuffed and taken into custody for suspicion of a hoax bomb.  He disputed this and told his teacher, principal, and law enforcement that it was simply a clock.  Ahmed told them this because, well, it was simply a clock.


On Wednesday, Irving Police Chief Larry Boyd told the media that charges against Ahmed were going to be dropped because it did not appear that he intended to alarm anyone, but that he should have been “forthcoming” by going beyond the description that what he made was a clock.  Though I doubt “this is a clock, not a bomb” would have assuaged any suspicion.


Soon after news of Ahmed’s arrest hit the news wires, social media aligned itself in support of Ahmed Mohamed, to include #istandwithahmed tweets and posts from President Obama and Facebook front man, Mark Zuckerberg.


Of course, it is hard to imagine the school and law enforcement reacting the way it did had the clock been built by a John, Tim, or Brian.  But this freshman’s name was Ahmed Mohamed and that is hard to ignore.


Was the reaction from MacArthur High School justified?


Absolutely not.  Ahmed is a smart kid with a bright future (shockingly, he wants to attend MIT) and he was clearly the victim of ethnic profiling.  But—let’s pull the proverbial thread a bit further and see if we can’t learn something from this unfortunate situation.


Texas Penal Code Section 46.08


Section 46.08 of the Texas Penal Code makes it a Class A Misdemeanor in Texas if a person knowingly possesses a hoax bomb with intent to use the hoax bomb to scare others.  Ahmed’s situation puts him safely outside of the elements of this offense.  But what are some takeaways?  If you are smart enough to make a digital clock, don’t pull it out of your backpack in class because you may get arrested, even if your name isn’t Ahmed Mohamed.  Science fairs exist for a reason.


As for Ahmed’s parents, they may have a legitimate civil rights complaint on their hands.  As a trial attorney, I would be positively ecstatic about the opportunity to display for the jury a giant photograph of 14 year-old Ahmed being hauled off in handcuffs, wearing a NASA shirt no less!


Given that teachers and schools are justifiably temperamental these days—and assuming my infant daughter inherits my wife’s creative intellect—her desire to create and build will be encouraged, while any desire to randomly display her latest ticking invention without notice and during class, will be discouraged.


Ahmed Mohamed did not intend to frighten anyone.  Irving ISD and Irving Police claim that their reaction would have been the same were it any other student.  That is hard to believe but perhaps—and pardon me for this—time will tell.


[1] Examples:  1) Having family can make you the richest people in Astoria; 2) always choose adventure over Troy’s bucket; 3) never judge anyone by their appearance; and of course, 4) Goonies never say ‘die’.

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