A Baltimore mother caught on camera on Monday, April 27, 2015 taking her son out of the Baltimore riots before he could get in trouble with the law has been praised by all including law makers, Baltimore police commissioner, and the public as a “Mother of the Year,” with urgings that if mothers were involved there would be no rioting. Toya Graham, a single mother of six has also spoken out to the press about the incident and the reactions.
On Monday, Graham was outraged when she saw her saw her only son Michael, 16 wearing a hat and mask, and looking to become involved in the mayhem of the riots, by throwing objects with other high school students at the police. Local TV station WMAR-TV captured Graham on camera taking out her son, who was all in black, away from the riot. She was slapping and screaming at her son, telling him “Are you kidding me?” “take the mask off” and “get over here” mixed with a number of expletives.
Toya Graham recounted to CBS News, “That’s my only son and at the end of the day I don’t want him to be a Freddie Gray.” Continuing she said, “At that point, I just lost it. I was shocked, I was angry, because you never want to see your child out there doing that.” She explained herself saying, “I’m a no-tolerant mother. Everybody that knows me, know I don’t play that.” Graham remarked how scared her son was of her when he saw her, “He said, when ‘I seen you,’ he said, ‘ma, my instinct was to run.'”
The video immediately went viral, and she was praised as “Mother of the Year” for taking charge of her son and preventing him from becoming involved in the riots criminal activity. Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts had harsh words for the protesters, but praised Graham’s actions, and said it is advice to follow when he was asked about the video during a Tuesday press conference. Batts responded, “And if you saw in one scene, you had one a mother who grabbed their child who had a hood on his head and she started smacking him on the head because she was so embarrassed. I wish I had more parents who took charge of their kids tonight. I think these were youth coming out of the high school and they thought it was cute to throw cinder blocks at the police department, and address it that way.”
There was even praise for Graham’s actions on the floor of the House of Representatives. On Tuesday, Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) indicated African-American mothers’ “awesome powers” could end and prevent the riots. Rush expressed, “I would like to make a special appeal to African-American mothers across this country. That they begin to use their awesome powers to take back our streets from the daily violence that far too many of our youth, far too many of our families, and far too many of our communities are experiencing each and every day.”
Rep. Rush had a prop, a photo still of the video, which he pointed to in his House floor remarks, “Beside me today is an image that many across the nation have seen, and it’s the subject of conversation all across our country. The image of a strong black mother giving her son what I will call a love whooping – a love whooping – to snatch him back from the senseless violence that is currently plaguing the city of Baltimore, Maryland. As this picture demonstrates, mothers can and mothers must be the mobilizing force to take back our streets.”
Graham has been receiving praise on social media including on her son’s Facebook account. Graham recounted, “Friends and everybody making comments and saying, ‘you know, you shouldn’t be mad at your mother, you should give her a hug,'” Her actions as a protective and disciplining mother are being considered a “teachable moment.” Graham hopes “by him seeing everything what’s going on I just hope, I’m not sure, but I hope that he understands the seriousness of what was going on last night.”
These recent round of riots centered in Baltimore, Maryland after a black suspect Freddie Gray, 25, died from a severed spin at the neck and other related injuries when he was forcibly and violently taken into custody by police for running away and possessing a switch-blade. Gray had a long criminal record, with 20 charges in five active ones at the time of his death. The six officers were not charged in Gray’s death only suspended without pay.
President Barack Obama responded to the riots on Tuesday afternoon, April 28 calling those involved “criminals and thugs.” The president criticized, “There is no excuse for the kind of violence we saw yesterday. It is counterproductive. They’re not protesting. They’re not making a statement. They are stealing.” Continuing President Obama pointed out, “The thousands of demonstrators who did it the right way have been lost in the discussion.” Obama does not find the police officers blameless either, indicating “We have to own up to the fact that there are occasionally going to be problems here. There are some police who aren’t doing the right thing.”
The riots in Baltimore started on Saturday April 25, and escalated after Gray’s funeral on April 27, where there mass riots, looting fires and violence towards police. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency on Tuesday, April 28, the National Guard brought in and a curfew instituted, which has since curbed the riots. Michael Graham was one of the nearly 100 students that joined in the riots throwing objects at the police on Monday. During the height of the riots from Monday, April 27 to Tuesday, April 28, there were over 250 arrests with 20 officers injured, and schools were closed on Tuesday.
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. She covers US, Canadian, Israeli and international news, anything from crime to human interest stories and everything in between.