It has been about three months since Texas made headlines for the case of Ahmed Mohamed, the 14 year-old boy from Irving who was arrested for bringing a homemade clock to school. After such a high-profile case, you might think that the onslaught of negative media attention would have taught Texas school districts to tread carefully, and avoid impulsively arresting brown children without cause. You would be wrong.
On Friday, December 11, in Arlington, TX, Armaan Singh Sarai, age 12, was arrested and sent to a juvenile detention facility. The Sikh seventh-grader was arrested and sent to juvie because a classmate thought that a battery charger in Armaan’s backpack looked like a bomb. The story first came to light through a Facebook post from his cousin, Ginee Haer, who wrote (emphasis added):
On Friday, December 11th, 2015, my cousin attended school, like any other normal 12 year old child. A bully in class thought it would be funny to accuse him of having a bomb, and so the principal, without any questioning, interrogation, or notification to his parents, called the police. Worried & frightened at home, his family was concerned as to why he had not reached home right after school. They started calling every police department in the area, only to find out he was sent to a Juvenile facility. They kept him held behind bars for three consecutive days, before finally releasing him on Monday, December 15th.
What’s more, Armaan has a heart condition, and has had three open heart surgeries. But that didn’t stop Arlington police from sending hauling the kid off to juvie.
Armaan’s family elaborated more to the Dallas Morning News, and I encourage everyone to read their story and watch the video of Armaan talking about the incident. Armaan has officially been charged with “making a terroristic threat,” and though he has been released from detention, he is still under house arrest and must wear an ankle monitor until his court date.
Arlington police and the school district have defended their actions, noting that several Dallas-area schools have received bomb threats recently. A spokeswoman for the Arlington Independent School District told the DMN, “The AISD will do what is necessary to maintain the safety and security of its students, and we are confident that our actions are appropriate in all respects.” And Lt. Christopher Cook, the Arlington police spokesman claims Armaan’s skin color has nothing to do with how he was treated:
- “The suspect never told us anything about being bullied…The ethnicity or race does not figure into our investigation in any way. There is nothing in the report that would indicate that the suspect was set up.”
Arlington police claim that Armaan told a fellow student he had a bomb, then admitted it was a joke. Since this police force takes bomb threats seriously, they took him to jail without telling his parents, and made him stay there for three days before they let him out. Remember, this is kid is twelve. Even if what the police are saying is true, it’s tough to imagine a white kid being sent to juvie for three days for making a false bomb threat. Let’s not forget that Tarrant County, home of Arlington, is also home to Ethan Couch, the white teenager who killed four people in a drunk driving accident and only received probation because of “affluenza.”
To recap, Tarrant County: where a white teenager can kill four people and get probation, but a brown seventh-grader gets sent to juvie then released on house arrest with an ankle monitor for having a battery charger in his backpack. But yeah, race totally has nothing to do with it.
It is despicable to think that in the United States, a seventh-grader was arrested without calling his parents, and then held behind bars for three days because of an accusation from a fellow 12 year-old. Yet, given the continued history of Islamophobia in the state, I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that yet another non-white child was treated this way. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be outraged.
Islamophobic rhetoric has been steadily on the rise over the past few months, both nationally and here in Texas. It’s not enough to write it off as America’s old racist uncle Donald Trump acting crazy — it’s causing real problems for real people like Armaan Singh Sarai. Texas should not be the kind of state where a 12 year-old can be locked up behind bars just because someone thinks he looks like the kind of kid who might make a bomb. Police in the Dallas area have arrested two children in the past three months, and they’ve acted as though it’s business as usual.
Our state should be a place where all children are encouraged to learn, not terrified that their electronics could land them in jail if their skin is the wrong color. Texas, we can, and must, do better.