Monday, September 21, 2015

The Dumb Rejoinder To Ahmed Mohamed's Arrest: Common Sense Clocks Out

So in case you've been living in a cave the last couple of weeks, an Irving, Texas boy, Ahmed Muhamed, claimed to bring a clock of his own manufacture to school. In his English class, he plugged it in to a wall socket, whereupon it made some noise that the teacher decided was suspicious. Someone at the school declared the device a "hoax bomb", i.e. not a real bomb, whereupon police arrested and handcuffed Ahmed while they waited for his parents to take custody of him. As one Facebook poster observed, it is entirely clear neither the school officials nor the police believed he had a bomb; the observation of the "bomb", and his arrest and detention all took place within the school; the bomb squad was never called, and the "bomb" was never isolated.

More recently, poster Jeremy at Artvoice wrote a long-form piece about the incident that makes a compelling case against at least Muhamed's title claim, i.e. that he made the clock, a sentiment also endorsed by Richard Dawkins (who cited that piece). I won't go into that, because his photographs provide sufficient evidence that it's highly likely Muhamed merely stripped the cover off an old Radio Shack digital clock and threw it in a pencil case to make it look homebrew. But Jeremy then drifts into speculation and sophistry when he endorses subsequent police and administration behavior:
If we stop and think – was it really such a ridiculous reaction from the teacher and the police in the first place? How many school shootings and incidents of violence have we had, where we hear afterwards “this could have been prevented, if only we paid more attention to the signs!” Teachers are taught to be suspicious and vigilant. Ahmed wasn’t accused of making a bomb – he was accused of making a look-alike, a hoax. And be honest with yourself, a big red digital display with a bunch of loose wires in a brief-case looking box is awful like a Hollywood-style representation of a bomb. Everyone jumped to play the race and religion cards and try and paint the teachers and police as idiots and bigots, but in my mind, they were probably acting responsibly and erring on the side of caution to protect the rest of their students, just in case. “This wouldn’t have happened if Ahmed were white,” they say. We’re supposed to be sensitive to school violence, but apparently religious and racial sensitivity trumps that. At least we have another clue about how the sensitivity and moral outrage pecking order lies.

Because, is it possible, that maybe, just maybe, this was actually a hoax bomb? A silly prank that was taken the wrong way? That the media then ran with, and everyone else got carried away? Maybe there wasn’t even any racial or religious bias on the parts of the teachers and police.
Well, yes, it was a ridiculous overreaction. Arresting a kid for having a clock? For what crime? Handcuffing him? If the charge is that the kid lied about its manufacture, in what universe is that a colorable crime? And if the point was it might have been a hoax bomb (when the kid consistently declared otherwise, per the Dallas Morning News report), who made that determination? Subsequent investigation prompted Irving police chief Larry Boyd to say "there’s no evidence to support the perception he intended to create alarm". In other words, the only people stirring up trouble were the paranoid panicky teachers, administrators, and police at the high school. (Wait, police at a suburban high school?) I get his point that "none of us were there", but if we take media reports seriously (i.e. based on evidence presented), this is a zero-tolerance nightmare. To dismiss criticism of the actions of the officials on the scene as specious ("we jump to conclusions and assume we’re experts") is equally misguided. The Muhumad case joins a long list of official freakouts over very little, and if anything, should open a dialogue about the wisdom of using police to perfect society.

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