When Amar Ibrahim placed a “can-like object” on the rear wheel of the No. 66 bus at the Brigham Circle stop recently, he presumably didn’t intend to frighten passengers or provoke a response from the police bomb squad, still less to get arrested on charges of interfering with public transportation, disorderly conduct, and littering. The mysterious object, after all, was only a chocolate milk bottle.
Ibrahim’s defenders argue that the authorities overreacted, spooked more by his outfit — the 27-year-old immigrant from Eritrea was dressed in a long white thobe, a common men’s garment in the Middle East — than by anything objectively dangerous in his behavior. “Just because you dress in Muslim clothes does not make you a terrorist,” Ibrahim’s brother-in-law, Ahmed Ibrahim, told reporters.
If Ibrahim, who eventually pleaded not guilty and was released on his own recognizance, had been arrested after tossing his empty bottle into a trash barrel, it would be reasonable to ask whether police and prosecutors had gone overboard on the basis of nothing more than a stereotype. But tossing an unidentified container under a passenger bus at a busy intersection is not an innocuous gesture, especially in a city that so recently experienced a devastating terrorist bombing. Had Ibrahim been wearing jeans and a baseball cap, a response from law enforcement would still have been called for.
What got him in trouble wasn’t his choice of clothing, but his lack of common sense.