After checking in with Ahmed Mohamed a year after his arrest for bringing a homemade clock to school, the Washington Postreported Monday that his family has filed a new lawsuit against his old school district and principal, and the city of Irving.
The Post’s coverage notes that while an initial lawsuit from Mohamed’s family sought $15 million in damages, the latest suit comes without a dollar amount attached. Mohamed Elhassan Mohamed, the student’s father, is now represented by Hutchinson & Stoy. That’s the same Fort Worth law firm handling Jasmin Hernandez’s Title IX suit accusing Baylor University of deliberate indifference after she was raped by Baylor football player Tevin Elliott.
The firm’s slogan describes the attorneys as “warriors for justice,” and in the Ahmed Mohamed complaint, they don’t disappoint. One might, in a case like this, simply recount the well-known and thoroughly damning plain facts and timeline of the pencil-case-clock’s classroom debut and Mohamed’s subsequent arrest at school and interrogation by Irving police. Even a year later, the authorities’ reaction is still pretty shocking.
This complaint is different, though, right from the start. The statement of facts begins: “Every claim deserves context.” In that respect, the suit does not disappoint, kicking off with the entirety of the “Give me your poor,” etc., Emma Lazarus sonnet that graces the Statue of Liberty. What follows is a brief history of the clock incident and the Mohamed family, along with the bigger themes that made this case so resonant — including Irving ISD’s track record of harsh discipline, the rise of anti-Muslim paranoia in and around the city, and even how the current moment squares with America’s long history of xenophobia.
The full complaint is worth reading, but for an idea of the grand scope of the new case against Irving and its school district, here are a few more highlights:
From a section on “Immigration in America”:
“The United States is a nation of immigrants. Unless you’re a Native American, you come from immigrants. Despite that fact, we have a long and storied history of discrimination by groups against other groups. In some of the earliest records, the English passed laws to prevent the coming of the Quakers and the spread of their ‘accursed tenets.’”
The complaint goes on to detail 300 years of legalized and institutional discrimination, including the African slave trade and efforts to marginalize Native Americans, Catholics, Jesuits, “lame, impotent or infirm persons,” Irish, Germans, Jews, Italians, Chinese, “any woman who ‘married a foreigner,’” Japanese, Pacific Islanders, and undocumented migrants from Mexico.
The kicker: “It seems like the U.S. is free to target certain groups so long as it is the popular target of the time. Currently, the popular target is African American Muslims.”
From a section on “Racism and the Irving Independent School District”:
After describing the Texas State Board of Education’s process for developing curriculum standards, and its 2010 resolution demanding textbooks free from “pro-Islamic, anti-Christian Distortions,” the complaint recounts a message received by an unnamed Muslim civil rights group in Irving:
The complaint notes that “The message demonstrates not only the level of anti-Muslim sentiment but a vast ignorance of the Muslim religion.”
On Irving ISD’s history of disproportionate student discipline:
The complaint recounts a pattern from 2007 to 2014 in which black students were far more likely to be suspended as white students, even as the total number of suspensions fell.
“There is no explanation why the district has taken no steps to address the continuing disparity between discipline for white children versus discipline for black/African American children. … The rates of discipline remain approximately double even after years of knowledge of the disparity by the IISD. The district has done nothing meaningful to address the disparity or correct the inequality.”
The suit accuses the school board of walking back a commitment in 2009 to study that racial disparity, particularly after the 2011 election of trustee Steven Jones, who the lawyers say called the district “black town” during his campaign, and argued that teachers shouldn’t be allowed to speak with a “heavy Hispanic accent” around students.
The complaint mentions a mass email sent by suburban Houston tea party activist Ginger Russell, which warned about the anti-American, anti-capitalist and anti-Christian tendencies of a widely used curriculum management tool called CSCOPE. “Irving ISD Indoctrinating Islam,” read the subject line of Russell’s email, which prompted a high-profile internal investigation by the Irving school board. From the suit:
“The results indicated that Christianity got twice as much attention in the curriculum as any other religion and if there was any bias in CSCOPE, it was ‘bias against radical Islam.’ That bias permeated IISD and contributed to the unwarranted discipline of Ahmed Mohamed.”
Mohamed’s attorneys make further accusations too, alleging a history of wrongful arrests by the Irving Police Department, saving particular blame for MacArthur High School principal Daniel Cummings. Taken together, the particular citations of disciplinary statistics and general notes on American history all situate Mohamed’s arrest not as a disciplinary accident followed by a social media freakout, but as the logical result of this nation’s long tradition of punishing whole groups of people for wrongs they didn’t commit.