The video clip of Baltimore mother Toya Graham smacking her 16-year-old son when she found him protesting following the funeral of Freddie Gray went viral and has won the woman praise for trying to protect him.
You have probably seen the clip or read the story that came out of Maryland days after the arrest of Gray, 25, by local authorities and his subsequent death in jail, apparently the result of a severed spinal cord suffered while he was in police custody.
In the video captured by a CNN affiliate, Graham is seen grabbing her son — wearing a mask — away from a protest crowd. She obviously was a mother on a mission. The video shows her screaming at him and smacking him in the head repeatedly.
“That’s my only son and at the end of the day I don’t want him to be a Freddie Gray,” she told CBS after the incident. “I was angry. I was shocked, because you never want to see your child out there doing that.”
In the video, the boy tries to walk away, but his persistent and angry mother pursues him, continuing to smack him and shout. Later, Graham told one reporter that her son said he wanted to run when he saw her coming.
“I’m a no-tolerant mother. Everybody who knows me, knows I don’t play that,” Graham told CBS. “He knew. He knew he was in trouble.”
The woman also said that when she arrived at a local mall, she saw people throwing objects at police. As she described what she saw there, said it could not be called protesters out for justice.
Tameka Brown, one of Graham’s five daughters, said her brother is actually grateful that his mom came to get him. She said he understands his mother did it because she wants to keep her son alive.
Understandably, Toya Graham is being praised for her unconventional tough-love actions in extracting her son from a situation where he could have been hurt. But she obviously did not want him to engage in illegal activity that the protest had devolved into.
Here was a mother who is being seen as taking her parenting responsibilities seriously, so seriously that she was oblivious to the TV camera recording her actions, intent only on pursuing her son, one of her six children.
Viewers have found her example to be refreshing, even as she employed strong language in gaining the attention of her offspring, dressed in dark pants and a black hoodie.
Not every mom will show such ferocity in protecting her children and trying to keep them out of trouble in the same way. Toya Graham is being hailed as a mother who did what she could in a setting that many parents would have found intimidating.
Some have taken to social media to nominate her for “mother of the year.” She’s not the only mother who serves that characterization, of course, but she has gained the attention of a lot of people who feel paralyzed in communities struggling to deal with situations that reflect serious civil rights and racial issues.
Toya Graham is a hero because she acted within her own sphere of influence to make a contribution that hopefully her son and many others who saw her actions in the national spotlight will long remember.
Bill Webb is editor of Word & Way.