The intersection of the era of zero tolerance lockdown schools and rampant red state Islamophobia is an ugly, ugly place.
Ahmed Mohamed — who makes his own radios and repairs his own go-kart — hoped to impress his teachers when he brought a homemade clock to MacArthur High on Monday.
Instead, the school phoned police about Ahmed’s circuit-stuffed pencil case.
So the 14-year-old missed the student council meeting and took a trip in handcuffs to juvenile detention. His clock now sits in an evidence room. Police say they may yet charge him with making a hoax bomb — though they acknowledge he told everyone who would listen that it’s a clock.
In the meantime, Ahmed’s been suspended, his father is upset and the Council on American-Islamic Relations is once again eyeing claims of Islamophobia in Irving.
America is a great country, it just happens to have some truly awful people living there. Some of them, unfortunately, are in positions of considerable authority and influence.
Ahmed’s clock was hardly his most elaborate creation. He said he threw it together in about 20 minutes before bedtime on Sunday: a circuit board and power supply wired to a digital display, all strapped inside a case with a tiger hologram on the front.
He showed it to his engineering teacher first thing Monday morning and didn’t get quite the reaction he’d hoped for.
“He was like, ‘That’s really nice,’” Ahmed said. “‘I would advise you not to show any other teachers.’”
He kept the clock inside his school bag in English class, but the teacher complained when the alarm beeped in the middle of a lesson. Ahmed brought his invention up to show her afterward.
“She was like, it looks like a bomb,” he said.
“I told her, ‘It doesn’t look like a bomb to me.’”
The teacher kept the clock. When the principal and a police officer pulled Ahmed out of sixth period, he suspected he wouldn’t get it back.
They led Ahmed into a room where four other police officers waited. He said an officer he’d never seen before leaned back in his chair and remarked: “Yup. That’s who I thought it was.”
Because of course it was.
However, sometimes these stories have a happier ending.
MSNBC host Chris Hayes had a pleasant surprise for Ahmed Mohamed, the 14-year-old Muslim teenager who was arrested at his high school in Irving, Texas after officials determined his homemade clock could be a “hoax bomb.”
Hayes brought in astrophysicist Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, who works for the Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research and the Department of Physics and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which Mohamed has described as his “dream school.”
“I just want to say, you are my ideal student,” Prescod-Weinstein told the teen. “A creative, independent thinker like you is the kind of person who should be becoming a physicist. As a theoretical physicist, I would love it if you took an interest in the mathematical side, although you’re clearly very adept with your hands and at building things.”
She then extended an invitation for Mohamed to visit MIT and get a tour of the Kavli Institute and the school’s Center for Theoretical Physics. She added that her former advisors at Harvard also wanted him to take a tour of their astrophysics facility.
“You are the kind of student we want at places like MIT and Harvard,” she said.
Hayes then asked his young guest if he would take the school up on the invitation.
“That’s a fact right there,” Mohamed said.
Indeed, young Ahmed received invitations to check out everything from Facebook and Reddit's HQ to NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab to yes, even the White House.
America, this time you did it right.