Ahmed Mohamed and the lingering effects of racial profiling

The World
Ahmed Mohamed

Ahmed Mohamed is not the only one.

Before the Texas 9th grader was arrested for bringing a homemade clock to school, there was James Blake. It was just last week that the retired tennis star was tackled and handcuffed by an NYPD officer who mistook him for a suspect in a credit card fraud sting. And to add insult to injury, it was later revealed that the Blake lookalike police believed to be the actual suspect was also the wrong person — and not even living in the US.

And before Blake, there have been many others — famous and not so famous — who have been subject to various forms of racial profiling. Despite efforts and reforms at both the federal and state level, it’s a problem that continues to plague many communities.

In 2014, for example, USA TODAY found what it called a “staggering disparity” in arrest rates in more than 1,500 police departments across the US. In schools like Ahmed’s in Irving, Texas, the racial gap is no different — even, as the Washington Post reports, among young males of color who are well-behaved:

Mohamed hasn't yet been charged with a crime, but research suggests that relatively well-behaved students of color are more likely to be arrested and imprisoned than white students who make trouble frequently. Advocates of juvenile-justice reform say Mohamed's case is typical, and that school authorities often assume the worst of students who belong to racial and ethnic minorities.

The Post cites a recent study released this year by the University of South Carolina and Michigan State University that found white students who admitted to committing 40 crimes within the last year were about as likely to be imprisoned as black and Hispanic students who admitted to committing just five crimes.

Living with the stereotype of a criminal or terrorist is a reality that, like Ahmed, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 9th grader Sumaiya Mahee also has to live with. In an essay she wrote last school year for an English class, she expressed her frustrations with how many see her and others like her.

Social media has a big effect on how Muslims are shown. Muslims are shown as terrorizing the country, but no that is not the case. It's the person who chose to do the wrong act who is terrorizing the country.

There is one time that really hit me hard about this stereotype. I was walking home from the masjid (mosque) at around 12 AM with my sister and my best friend. We were walking and we had our hijabs on. As I got close to my garage, two men were staring at us and were whispering to each other. I asked politely if they had anything they wanted to tell us. They replied with, "Danger! It's the Muslims!" as they were laughing. At first, I was shocked and I stopped, just staring at them. As they were walking away still laughing, I turned around, really angry and screamed, "Wait till we come after you! You're not going to survive any longer!" I turned and stomped away, still angry.I regret saying what I did, but then again, they did deserve it for believing the stereotypes from other people's actions. They had discriminated against us for no reason.

Last December, the Department of Justice rolled out new guidlines to curb racial profiling by federal law enforcement. The new rules prevent FBI agents, for example, from considering national origin, gender, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity (along with race and ethnicity) when opening cases. The rules, though, don't apply to local police and dozens of civil rights and advocacy organizations have argued that the rules don't go far enough and have criticized a loophole that still allows profiling at airports and in border regions by Customs and Border Protection.

In the wake of Ahmed's arrest, he has received an outporing of support far and wide, including from President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. But when his arrest came up at this week's Republican presidential debate, some of the responses weren't as supportive. While Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal commented that he didn't think a 14-year-old should get arrested for bringing a clock to school, he also added that he was glad the police were careful. He later remarked, "the biggest discrimination going on is against Christian business owners and individuals who believe in traditional forms of marriage."

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