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Clocks Are Not Bombs: Overcriminalization of Juveniles in Our Schools

| September 16, 2015

Schools are intended to cultivate curiosity and inventiveness within our youth. Unfortunately, a growing culture of overcriminalization has extended into learning centers and students are being arrested and removed from schools by police for minor infractions that in the past would have been handled through the school and the parents.

On September 14, a curious and intelligent ninth-grade student brought a project that he had been working on to his school to show his engineering teacher. Ahmed Mohamed was active in robotics club in middle school, and wanted his engineering teacher’s opinion on his most recent invention: a homemade clock.

Who could have expected him  to be arrested, suspended, handcuffed, shipped off to a juvenile detention facility and fingerprinted? Reportedly, all of this occurred, without him even being able to call his parents.

While that seems surreal, it happened. A teacher heard a beep emanating from the pack, Mohamed was asked to remove the item and was swiftly escorted to the principal’s office. There he states that he was interrogated for four hours without being allowed to call his parents. Although he tried to convince the school that the wiring was in fact a clock that he was designing, the school eventually decided to call the police. Mohamed was lead from the school in handcuffs.

In the case at hand, it could possibly be understandable that a teacher would be concerned about a box of wires brought in by a student. What is not clear at all is why the school did not take reasonable in-house steps to resolve the issue. The engineering teacher that Mohamed originally showed the clock to was impressed and, if consulted, would have been able to confirm its nature to the school authorities.

However, school authorities did not take reasonable steps. They had a gut reaction that wasted police resources, resulted in a bright student being removed from his studies, and left a lasting impression on a kid that was just trying to educate himself.

This case is not a singular one, nor is it unusual in Texas. In 2012, a teacher in Texas called school police whereupon the officer arrested the twelve-year-old girl, whose offense was using strong perfume. Another Texas student was arrested for throwing paper airplanes. Other states are also tipping toward overcriminalization of their students, with a very recent example being a student in Baltimore that was arrested and charged with assault for kissing a fellow classmate on a dare.

It is quickly becoming clear that overcriminalization is not just a problem in the adult criminal justice system.




DIANNA MULDROW is a graduate of the University of Texas School of Law, where she focused on criminal justice and education policy. She has interned in the Governor’s Office, for the Chair of the State Board of Education, and most recently at the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Center for Education Freedom and Center for Effective Justice. She is now employed as a policy analyst for Right on Crime, focusing on juvenile justice. Muldrow has worked on many research papers and articles – for Texas and several other states – advocating for reforms in criminal justice that protect public safety in a cost-effective manner.