At Wednesday’s White House daily briefing, the arrest of Ahmed Mohamed for showing a science project to his teacher was a hot topic. The high school freshmen was turned in to police by his teachers when they became concerned that the homemade clock he had built might just be a bomb. The police, in turn, arrested the teen and interrogated him for allegedly building a “hoax bomb,” before finally releasing him and closing the case. According to the kid, his last name came up repeatedly during questioning:
The incident has sparked a social media tsunami of support for Ahmed, in the form of the #IStandWithAhmed hashtag, and one particularly famous booster who tweeted an invitation that’ll be hard to refuse:
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.
— President Obama (@POTUS44) September 16, 2015
President Obama’s tweet caused several reporters to ask White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest why the president decided to weigh on on the issue, which Earnest replied could become a “teachable moment” about our “own biases”:
If you could be arrested for first degree hot take, there’d be no reporters at the White House, but a good response from the press secretary can smother a stupid narrative before it gets its feet on the ground.
That’s exactly what Earnest did when Breitbart’s Charlie Spiering floated the idea that maybe the teachers and the cops weren’t being so unreasonable, since maybe the Secret Service would have reacted similarly to a briefcase full of circuitry. Before you could say “Fox News,” Earnest quietly destroyed that narrative by pointing out an obvious difference, while also declining an invitation to start feuding with the police:
Charles Spiering: Would (President Obama) concede that the Secret Service would make a similar mistake if they saw this device, this homemade clock, near the White House?
“Well, I guess the point, Charlie, is that this is a device that was brought to a school and shown to a science teacher. So I wouldn’t speculate, at this point, about what anybody’s hypothetical reaction to it would be. What is clear is that the local police department took a look at it, and promptly closed the case.”
The real answer is that of course the Secret Service would have reacted in some way. I was once part of a total evacuation of the White House because someone threw a box of tea bags on the North Lawn. That’s because it’s the White House, not a ninth-grade science class. The Secret Service also has a machine that detects explosives, which they have previously used on my (admittedly gigantic) cell phone, and I’m a white guy who’s passed hundreds of Secret service background checks. When Ahmed eventually does bring his briefcase clock to the White House, they will almost certainly do the same, because WHITE HOUSE. That doesn’t mean that the teachers and cops were right to arrest the kid for being a great science student.
I’m not even 100% mad at the teachers for getting a little bit spooked by the thing, since I vividly remember the tale of the Boy Scout who tried to build a nuclear reactor in his shed. But Radioactive Boy Scout David Hahn, who really was dangerous, wasn’t arrested. He was also white (and probably a warm, glowing green in the dark), and he was only caught because police were responding to an unrelated call when Hahn told them to be careful not to touch his radioactive toolbox.
I’d like to think that Ahmed’s teachers would have displayed the same vigilance with any student. a premise I hope is never tested by a white kid bringing an actual bomb to school, but when the police tried to arrest him, they should all have locked arms with him to prevent it.