Overstepping Zeal

The recent incident of a 14-year old student being handcuffed by the police in Irving, Texas, U.S., for bringing a digital clock to the school yet again demonstrates the overzealousness of law enforcement officials in the U.S. This incident also shows that the School involved (MacArthur High School) did not follow procedures, or logic, though they claim they did. They did not even inform the father of the student before the police was called in for investigating the matter.

What did the police do ? They promptly profiled Ahmed Mohamed racially and determined that the device he built was a threat to the School because it could have been a “bomb”.

There are many learning points in this whole episode.

One is that the teacher who reported the matter did not use simple logic. He or she knows the concerned student, and probably knows that he is a builder of scientific things.

The engineering teacher who appreciated Ahmed should have informed the other teachers and the school administration that Ahmed has built a digital clock and would like to show it off to the class. He did not and told Ahmed not to tell the other teachers about the clock.

The other angle is that the parents of Ahmed should have known that he was taking the clock in a briefcase to the School. Shouldn’t they have informed the class teacher that he is bringing his new contraption to the School, and that he should be given some demo time, for instance ? Even this basic thing did not happen, and for this I have to only blame the parents. They know what Ahmed was doing or building anyway.

The School should have known that it was just a digital clock – where was the engineering teacher who knew that ? Did he go absconding ? Why report to the Police when they could have determined what it was in the first place and could have also told Ahmed to inform them in advance in future ? Why couldn’t the School have a conversation with the parents, who they obviously knew ?

The Police action is no surprise at all – most police officers in the U.S. seem to think that everyone is a criminal unless proven otherwise. And, they seem to believe in tough enforcement without delving deep, and make symbolic communication like handcuffing 14-year olds, so that the society will learn to reform itself.

High-handedness is no good in a democratic civil society. Overzealousness to arrest and prosecute people with the only fear of getting shot by the criminal is not acceptable in a civil society, because every one has his/her right to be heard and a right to life. The U.S. law enforcement needs urgent fixing. I was shocked to read that in 2015 till date, 834 people have been shot and killed by U.S. police officers (as per a report that I read in Guardian).

Racial profiling of minority communities such as Muslims in the U.S. who are already in a state of siege has to be challenged. Not every one is a criminal or a terrorist just because he or she comes from a minority community.

Well, if you put all facts together, it is clear that all parties to this episode have messed up, and exacerbated an antagonism which already exists in the American society. While most things about the U.S. are good or all right, on this one factor the U.S. has not achieved freedom for its citizens. The whole world is witnessing dramatic incidents like these which only continue to spoil the image of the U.S. in the eyes of the world.


Vijay Srinivasan

19th September 2015


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