clock menu more-arrow no yes

This heartbreaking photo drives home why Ahmed Mohamed's arrest was such a travesty

The simple facts are enraging. Ahmed Mohamed is a ninth-grader who likes to invent things. On Monday, he built a clock and took it to school to show off to teachers and friends.

But Ahmed Mohamed's name is Ahmed Mohamed. His skin is brown. And so the school called the police, and the police told Mohamed his clock "looks like a movie bomb," and Mohamed was suspended from school and led out in handcuffs. Even after the school's mistake was made clear, administrators sent out an infuriating, victim-blaming letter patting themselves on the back for their actions.

That's what happened. But there's something about this photograph of Mohamed being arrested that really drives home what a tragedy these sorts of events are for America.

Let's count the ways this picture sets America back.

1) At a time when we're trying to persuade the Muslim world that we are not their enemy, that our policies aren't driven by anti-Muslim bias, we are racially profiling Muslim children as bomb-wielding terrorists. We are seemingly confirming the Muslim world's worst fears about us — and giving ammunition to those who argue that America is deeply hostile to Muslims.

2) At a time when the World Economic Forum ranks America as 48th in the quality of its math and science education and the Organization for Economic Development ranks American students as 27th in math and 20th in science, we're arresting a child who wears NASA shirts and builds machines in his spare time — and we're doing it because the education professionals charged with guiding his development can't tell the difference between a clock and a bomb.

3) At a time when we desperately need the world's most talented immigrants to come to the US and build the industries of the future, we're sending a message that immigrant families like Mohamed's will be treated with suspicion and, at times, outright racism.

4) But the most heartbreaking part of the picture isn't about national policy or international headlines. It's the look on Mohamed's face. America was supposed to be better than this. But on Monday, his school and his local police force — both of them public institutions that his family's tax dollars support — failed him in a terrible, traumatic way.

Hopefully the public outcry will go part of the way to making it up to him. But no ninth-grader should ever be put through what he's been put through. And we have no idea how many brown-skinned ninth-graders go through something like this that never goes viral, and so they just have to live with their humiliation and their hurt.

VIDEO: The police's explanation for arresting Ahmed Mohamed