Hey look, I built a clock!

Ahmed Mohamed. I’ve seen and read so much news about his story over the past few days, I feel like my brain is swimming in Ahmed-related information.

I know Ahmed is a Muslim teenager living Texas, where his parents settled after emigrating from Sudan. I know he built himself a clock and brought it to school so he could show it to his teachers. I know the staff at his school and the police in his town decided his clock merited handcuffing and arresting him. I know that, while the police decided not to charge Ahmed, his school administrators still chose to suspend him for three days because of the “bomb hoax.”

Ahmed Mohamed under arrest; Image posted to Twitter at the request of his sister

As I read story after story about Ahmed’s situation, I desperately hoped for some shred of evidence that the school officials and police officers had some rationale for their actions. Despite knowing better, I really didn’t want to believe that people considered “helpers” could be blind enough or ignorant enough or angry enough to punish a kid for building a clock and being Muslim.

So I started thinking about the what-ifs.

Like, what if something in Ahmed’s past suggested that he was a troubled or violent kid? Maybe he followed the “profile” of kids who murder teachers and fellow students in a violent rampage. But he didn’t. By all accounts, Ahmed was a smart, happy, earnest kid with a passion for science, and he’d never given any indication that he identified with extremism or violence.

Well okay, what if Ahmed’s teacher and the school officials truly believed his clock posed a danger? After all, American schools have been ground zero for some of the country’s worst tragedies over the past few decades, and no one wants a repeat of Sandy Hook, Columbine, or Virginia Tech. Today’s educators are trained to be vigilant—above all, their job is to keep students safe. In fact, my son just participated in a school lockdown drill during which he learned that the custodial closet smells like feet. I’m okay with my son enduring five minutes of stinky mop water, because I know the practice is designed to keep him safe at school. And if someday his teacher suspects there might be a bomb in her classroom, I sure as hell hope she immediately reports it to someone and gets the kids out of the building.

But that’s where the problem lies for the staff at Ahmed’s school—their actions didn’t follow their claims. They say the clock looked like a bomb, but they didn’t treat the situation like a bomb scare. They never even evacuated the school. So either the school officials had little regard for their own safety and that of their students, or they never really believed that Ahmed’s clock posed a threat.

There’s one final possibility: What if the staff believed that Ahmed was playing an elaborate practical joke? A joke designed to scare his classmates and teachers, to trigger a school evacuation (or not), to earn him a boatload of attention and, ultimately, punishment under the law.

How I would hold up under police questioning

But that doesn’t work, either, because when Ahmed showed the clock to his teacher, he said, “Hey look, I built a clock.” I mean, you’d think a kid who wanted to execute a bomb hoax would have said something more like, “Hey look, I built a bomb.” But Ahmed continued to tell anyone who asked that the item he’d built was a CLOCK. Even after he’d been handcuffed. And arrested. And questioned by police. While I’ve never been questioned by the police, I’m pretty sure I’d be terrified, even if I was innocent. (And I’m not a Muslim kid in Texas). But still, Ahmed never wavered in his story that the damn thing was just a clock.

So in the end, I can find no justification for the actions of the staff at Ahmed’s school, nor for those of the police officers who arrested him. As a very wise boss of mine once told me, I need to stop being surprised and shocked by the racism and prejudice that exist in this country. Thank you, Ahmed Mohamed, for reminding me of that. Shame on me for forgetting.

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2 responses on “Hey look, I built a clock!

  1. SPR

    Absolutely ridiculous article! This was a calculated move to stir things up and Ryle people up. The school reacted responsibly. Obviously you love to play Monday morning quarterback and criticize authority. Yeah, this kid doesn’t seem very traumatized appearing on Comedy Central and Google HQ, flights to NYC. People like you bury your heads in the sand because of fear of someone getting offended. Wake up! All parties involved had every right to take the actions they took.