Toya Graham was having none of it when she found her 16-year-old son Michael wearing a hoodie and mask in the midst of the Baltimore riots that erupted on city streets following the police custody death of Freddie Gray early last week.
Upon finding her son in the crowd, Ms. Graham started slapping him around the head and neck forcing him to back away from the street trouble and occasionally turn to face his mother long enough for the slapping to begin anew.
A TV crew filmed Ms. Graham screaming at her son who was dressed entirely in black to “take the mask off” (which he did) and to “get over here” to face more hands on discipline.
When interviewed, Ms. Graham said:
“He gave me eye contact. And at that point, you know, not even thinking about cameras or anything like that. That’s my only son and at the end of the day I don’t want him to be a Freddie Gray.”
Ms. Graham was referencing the 25-year-old black man who died from as severe spinal injury and a crushed trachea in police custody earlier in the month.
“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.”
“There’s some days that I’ll shield him in the house just so he won’t go outside and I know that I can’t do that for the rest of my life.”…”I’m a no-tolerant mother. Everybody that knows me, know I don’t play that.”
Graham, a single mom with six children, denounced the riots and violence against police. She said the unrest in Baltimore is no way to go about getting justice for Freddie Gray and that she doesn’t want that life for her son. This reputation is why her son recoiled the second he saw her.
“He knew he was in trouble.” “He said when ‘I seen you,’ he said, ‘ma, my instinct was to run.'”
Graham said that after she got her son home they watched news coverage of the demonstrations and riots on television as images of their mother son encounter went viral. Graham says comments started appearing on her son’s Facebook page in support of her.
“Friends and everybody making comments and saying you know, you shouldn’t be mad at your mother, you should give her a hug,” said Graham.
Graham hopes the incident will serve as a teachable moment for her son. “And 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.”
By late Monday night, the video had become so popular that Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts referenced the incident during a press conference. He said that many of the rioters were young people from nearby schools and encouraged parents get their children home.
“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,” Batts told reporters.
“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.”
So far, at least 20 police officers have been injured in the violence and one person was critically hurt in a fire. Police made 235 arrests, including 34 juveniles. The streets were calmer early Tuesday as the National Guard deployed in time to enforce the 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew in effect.