Zit Seng's Blog

A Singaporean's technology and lifestyle blog

It Does Not Go Boom

In an outrageous incident at a U.S. high school earlier this week, a Muslim teen showed his teacher a clock he had built, but ended up getting arrested because it was thought to be a bomb. Even after it was established that the clock was not a bomb, police said the teen could still face “hoax bomb” charges.

Dust Sensor

I build stuff myself from time to time, like that dust sensor apparatus you see above. Just because it doesn’t look familiar or recognisable, doesn’t make the thing suspicious looking. Just because something looks suspicious doesn’t mean it has to be something totally bad.

Here you have a teen who brought an interesting project to school. A school staffed with, I should presume, educated, intelligent, teachers. Teachers whom you’d expect can tell the difference between a science project and a suspicious looking threat. But they couldn’t.

Then the police are called in. They should be able to identify a bomb. But they deemed it fit for this student to be arrested, cuffed, and brought to a juvenile detection centre. After establishing that there was no bomb after all, they still talked about bringing a “bomb hoax” charge against the student.

All Ahmed Mohamed wanted to do was to impress his teacher with something he had built.

The whole incident sounds like a case of racial profiling gone awry.

But that’s not all. After realising their mistake, the school, MacArthur High School, in Irving, Texas, instead of apologising for their fumble, went on to send an insensitive letter to all parents which essentially still implies that Ahmed Mohamed was at fault.

Read the letter sent by the principal.

No apology, no hint that the school even regretted any bit of its wrongful actions. Best of all, the principal implies that Ahmed had broken the Student Code of Conduct, and that his clock qualified as a prohibited item.

There’s a silver lining in all these happenings. President Obama invited Ahmed to the White House. Obama wrote in a tweet:

Cool clock, Ahmed. Want to bring it to the White House? We should inspire more kids like you to like science. It’s what makes America great.

Ahmed also has an invitation from Mark Zuckerberg to visit Facebook.

I appreciate that it may not always be easy to tell if something qualifies as suspicious looking. Sometimes you’d think it’s better to err on the side of caution. Yes, but please let some common sense prevail too.

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