A 12-year-old Sikh boy in Texas was held behind bars for three days after he allegedly joked with a classmate that he would blow up the building with a bomb stowed in his backpack, police said on Friday.
A Facebook post written by Armaan Singh Sarai’s cousin said “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”.
The incident comes weeks after a Texas teenager, Ahmed Mohamed, was taken away in handcuffs for bringing to his Dallas school a homemade clock that staff mistook for a bomb.
“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,” Sarai’s cousin Ginee Haer wrote in the post, shared by around 8,000 people on Facebook by Friday morning.
An officer from the Arlington Police Department in United States’ Texas, however, told Hindustan Times the boy was sent to the juvenile centre after admitting he had joked about the threat.
“We received a call on Friday, December 11 about a student who threatened to blow up the school with a bomb. When we arrived, we had to evacuate the classroom consisting of 16 students and a teacher and spoke to the student who alerted the teacher… The student who made the threat admitted to saying he had a bomb and that he would blow up the school but that he was joking,” lieutenant Christopher Cook said over the phone.
He said the police checked the boy’s backpack and made sure he did not pose any security threat, but still arrested him, as making a “terroristic threat” is a felony.
When asked why Sarai was held for three days despite investigations being “completed within 45 minutes”, Cook said: “We arrested the boy and handed him over to the juvenile facility. How long they hold him for is not under our control; it’s determined by the juvenile justice department.”
In a letter to the school principal Julie Harcrow, Sarai’s older brother Aksh Singh said other students, too, were joking about bombs but only the “Indian boy was taken into police custody”.
A spokesperson for the school however defended the decision to call the police.
“When children claim to have bombs or threaten to do harm to students and tell other students this, we don’t consider it unreasonable to call the police. In fact, we work with the Arlington Police Department to investigate all threats and determine if they are legitimate,” director of communications Leslie Johnston told HT.
While the school said the parents did not turn up for a scheduled meeting, police said they were unable to inform the parents about their action.
“His parents could not be reached. The phone numbers the school had were incorrect. The boy claimed he didn’t know his parents numbers. The adult sister ended up being notified by the principal,” the police officer said.
According to the Facebook post, Sarai was born and raised in Texas and his family moved to Dallas around four months back. A student at the Nichols Junior High School in Arlington, he is said to be suffering from a heart condition that has led to him undergoing three surgeries.
Questioned about the police action despite Sarai’s health problem, Cook said: “He didn’t tell us he had a health condition.”
While Ahmed’s arrest in September had sparked allegations of racial and religious profiling, with many calling the case an example of manufactured fear around Islam, Sarai’s arrest drew similar criticism on Twitter.
“Not right friends, this is not right,” a user posted. “It’s worse than what happened to Ahmed,” another tweet read. “The government of the states has always had a nasty habit of thinking something’s right just because it’s them doing it.”
“All these bas***** see is race & the color of your skin… The color of your skin does not define who you are (sic),” Haer wrote on Facebook.
Cook, however, denied Sarai was profiled on the basis of his ethnicity. “We support our officers that made the arrest and have to treat these types of incidents seriously. You cannot joke in a school setting or anywhere for that matter that you have a bomb. You will be arrested no matter what race or ethnicity,” he said.