That digital clock is not a black-or-white issue

Social media has lit up with discussion of a 14 year old Arab teenager arrested after bringing a homemade digital clock to school to show off his skills to his teachers. He was arrested and accused of making a bomb threat. So this is obviously racism and persecution of Arabs, right? If this young man had blond hair and blue eyes and his name was John Smith, nothing would have happened to him. But because he is an Arab named Ahmed Mohamed (and his family is Muslim!) he is the target of racist, bigoted cops and school officials.

Not so fast. This story is a lot more nuanced than that.

First of all, go do a Google image search take a look at the clock online. It does look like a number of suitcase bombs we have all seen in movies and video games. It was not a bomb, nor was it presented as such. But in the post-Columbine era, schools do need to take reasonable precautions when a teenage boy brings something like that to school. Just to be on the safe side, the school did need to intervene and raise questions.

There was absolutely non legitimate justification for the police to arrest Mohamed, though. The digital clock may have reminded school officials of a suitcase bomb, but it was not a bomb and was never presented as a bomb. It was a homemade digital clock. The intelligent thing to do would be to confiscate it, give it to the boy’s parents at the end of the school day, and tell Mohamed not to bring it back to school. Arresting him was an absurd overreaction that should result in strict scrutiny of the police officers and possible disciplinary action.

Mohamed did nothing wrong, but what he did was unwise. That said, how many of us have NOT done things that were unwise when we were 14 years old?

A bigger culprit here is not racism or bigotry, but absurd “zero tolerance” policies that are better described as “zero intelligence” policies. Far too many young people (as young as elementary school students) have been caught by these “zero intelligence” policies that ban discernment in favor of a strict enforcement of rules even when it does not make sense. Hopefully Mohamed’s case will be the spark we need to eliminate this foolishness once and for all.

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