Boy builds a clock, breaks the internet

Bizarre, NakedLaw, News

He may not have built a bomb, but 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed of Irving, Texas still managed to blow up the internet on Wednesday when he brought a homemade clock to school that his teachers—and local authorities—decided was possibly an explosive device.

According to reports, Mohamed built the clock in an effort to try and impress his instructors at MacArthur High School, but when he brought it to class the reaction was much different than he’d anticipated; over the next several hours the clock was confiscated, Mohamed was detained and questioned, then finally handcuffed and taken away by police.

The boy’s father, Mohamed Elhassan Mohamed, said his son has shown a capacity for electronics and tinkering with devices for some time, constructing his own radios and once building a Bluetooth speaker as a gift for a friend. “He fixed my phone, my car, my computer,” the elder Mohamed said. “He is a very smart, brilliant kid.”

But his homemade clock was immediately viewed with suspicion when he showed it to his engineering professor. “He was like, ‘That’s really nice,’” the teen told the Dallas Morning News. “‘I would advise you not to show any other teachers.’”

Later, the boy was taken out of class and hauled into the principal’s office. “They took me to a room filled with five officers in which they interrogated me and searched through my stuff and took my tablet and my invention,” Mohamed said. “They were like, ‘So you tried to make a bomb?’ I told them no, I was trying to make a clock.”

How teachers and police alike managed to confuse the clock with a bomb—or whether racial or cultural biases might be at play—is still a matter of discussion. For their part, authorities in Irving claim the need for caution. “We live in an age where you can’t take things like that to school,” said Irving Police Chief Larry Boyd at a press conference. “Of course we’ve seen across our country horrific things happen, so we have to err on the side of caution.”

According to Boyd, “under Texas law, a person is guilty of possessing a hoax bomb if he possesses a device that is intended to cause anyone to be alarmed or a reaction of any type by law enforcement officers.” Reason eventually prevailed: Mohamed was released Wednesday afternoon and reportedly will not face charges in relation to the case. However, the school district was still mulling its options and may end up suspending the teen for some period of time.

Regardless, the damage is done. Shortly after the story broke, #IStandWithAhmed was trending mightily and the internet shaming had begun. Before long, a loud chorus of scientists, technology geeks, Facebook posters, and other onlookers had summarily judged the school, the police, and indeed the whole town of Irving as a pack of anti-Muslim bigots.

Happily, much of the sentiment expressed has been less anti-Irving and more pro-Mohamed. Mark Zuckerburg posted on Facebook, inviting the boy to come visit the company, and tweets from a wide variety of science enthusiasts and supporters expressed enthusiasm for Mohamed’s ingenuity. And apparently he has an internship waiting for him:

Even President Obama chimed in, inviting the boy to the White House:

And finally, while the incident clearly brings up concerns about anti-Muslim behavior, there is also humor to be found:

The internet is indeed a strange place.

Top image copyright Associated Press / NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth

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