Mohamed’s arrest brings racial profiling to light

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(Photo Courtesy: NBC)

Vibha Pandurangi, Editor-in-Chief

After bringing a homemade clock to school, 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed was detained and arrested by police in Irving, Texas, after teachers mistook the invention for a bomb, on Sept. 14. His detention and resulting suspension from school led to social media uproar and the creation of #IStandWithAhmed. The school’s and police’s actions continue to be an indication of the racial and religious profiling that is still prevalent in the United States.

Upon showing his engineer teacher the clock, Mohamed was told not to show any other teachers to avoid raising suspicion. An English teacher, later in the school day, reported Mohamed and his clock to the police after hearing it beep during class. He was then interrogated for over an hour without an attorney, and he was not allowed to inform his parents. Irving police explained the reason for his arrest as building a hoax bomb, illegal in the state of Texas, and continued to question him on what he had built. Despite school officials and local police admitting the clock was of no danger, Mohamed was suspended from school for three days.

The incident has brought forth questions on the protection of national security, racial profiling, and Islamophobia. While the Constitution guarantees the right to having an attorney present during questioning, Mohamed was denied this right despite being a minor. It was only after he was handcuffed and taken to a juvenile detention center that police informed his father. Why was Mohamed not allowed to inform his parents? There was no clear and present danger in this case. He was being charged for creating a hoax bomb,  although there was no indication of the school or the police believing the clock was a live bomb. How far can school’s non-tolerance policies reach before they become a serious breach of rights? The violation of Mohamed’s rights can set a dangerous precedent for similar cases in the future.

According to Mohamed, after he walked into a room where the police officers were waiting, one of the officers remarked, “Yup. That’s who I thought it was.” His reaction can be seen as indicative of racial profiling. While the Irving school district stands behind the teacher and the school and claims that the same actions would be taken, regardless of race or religion, there is still a large amount of uncertainty. Would the teacher have reached the same level of suspicion if the student had been of another race? Would the police have restricted constitutional rights to this extent of not allowing him to even inform his parents? The number of hate crimes against American Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs rose drastically after 9/11 with rampant Islamophobia, and the Mohamed case seems to bring to light the continuing existence of racial profiling.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has restrictions in place to prevent racial profiling, such as the exclusion of race, ethnicity and religion as causes to open cases and start investigations. However, these rules do not apply to local police, leading to outcries for tighter restrictions.

The lack of clarity in this event only adds to the controversy. Mohamed’s attorney refused to give any more details on the legal process. The actual proceedings of this event are hazy to the general public as details about Mohamed are not being released to protect his privacy. The extreme distress Mohamed has undergone though has not been without recognition and poses taboo but significant questions about the perpetuation of racial profiling.