mid-day editorial: Don't fuel terror while fighting it

Reports from the US highlighted how a 12-year-old American-Sikh boy was held by the police for three days on the basis of a complaint from a bully in his class who thought it would be funny to accuse him of carrying a bomb to school. The family of the boy, Armaan Singh Sarai, revealed their harrowing ordeal on social media, after they were forced to contact one police station after another, just so they could figure out where he was being held.

It later turned out that the classmate who made the complaint had only been joking, and Armaan’s family expressed indignation over the fact that the Dallas school principal had not bothered with any questioning, interrogation, or even to notify the boy’s parents before calling the cops. The family’s Facebook post did not include a statement from the police, but the story is similar to that of 14-year-old Texas student, Ahmed Mohamed, who had been wrongly arrested just three months ago, after he brought a digital clock to school that teachers mistook for a bomb.

In both cases, the knee-jerk reactions of the authorities resulted in innocent schoolboys being jailed on terror suspicions. No one waited to cross check the facts before biting the ‘he has a bomb’ bait. Of course, this extreme reaction is rooted in fear that has grown with the new type of terrorism that we see today, in random shootings and surprise attacks.

It is always wise to be alert and careful, but there’s a thin line between caution and over-reaction, and from clock boy Ahmed to Armaan, the victims pay a tragic price when we push the panic buttons too soon.

Everyone must make a concerted effort to watch out for and report any red flags, but this must be done with caution and sensitivity, particularly when a child is involved. We understand the family’s anger and hope the school and community move quickly for an apology to try and erase the psychological scar. The Armaans of the world — and we suspect there will be more — our heart bleeds for you.

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