Unlike my own parents, I normally do not condone lifting a hand to spank, slap or whip misbehaving children. Yet I salute Toya Graham, now known widely known as Baltimore’s Angry Mom, for making corporal punishment look like high art.
Graham became an Internet sensation after she was caught on video in the act of snatching her 16-year-old son Michael off the street and sending him home during the Charm City’s riot early last week — after a few curses and slaps to his head.
The tall, skinny teen’s humiliation was palpable. Here he had toughened up his image like an urban ninja with a black mask and hoodie and, doggone it, here comes Mom —ablaze with anger in her red hair and bright canary-yellow top — to blow his cool.
But he went quietly, offering proof once again of an old black community adage: Never was a black man ever born who was not scared to death of his mama.
Angry Mom became an instant hero among Don’t-Spare-The-Rod traditionalists and a villain or dupe, at best, among apologists for civil unrest.
She hadn’t even been “thinking about cameras or anything like that” when she saw her son, Michael, on live television in a mob on the street near their home, she told CBS News. No, she said, she was only thinking, “That’s my only son, and at the end of the day I don’t want him to be a Freddie Gray,” she said. “Is he the perfect boy? No, he’s not, but he’s mine.”
It was the mysterious death of Freddie Gray that ignited the unrest. Police took the 25-year-old man into custody April 12 for reasons that have remained undisclosed.
He died a week later of spinal injuries that apparently occurred during his 45-minute ride in the back of a police van. Six officers were charged Friday in connection with the death.
With that, Gray’s name joined those of other unarmed black men whose deaths in confrontations with police in recent months have sparked scandal and, in some cases, civil unrest.
Police Commissioner Anthony Batts praised Angry Mom’s approach to child safety. “I wish I had more parents who took charge of their kids tonight,” he said.
On the other side were critics like Stacey Patton, an adjunct professor of history at American University, in a Washington Post essay headlined, “Why is America celebrating the beating of a black child?”
“In other words,” Patton wrote, “Graham’s message to America is: I will teach my black son not to resist white supremacy so he can live.” That’s not quite how Graham would say it, I’m sure.
The Angry Mom controversy rose along with a parallel dispute over the use by President Barack Obama and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake of the word “thug” to describe people who are rioting, looting and assaulting police and civilians.
If the shoe fits, I say, wear it. But some other African Americans, like Baltimore Councilman Carl Stokes and “The Nightly Show” host Larry Wilmore say it has become colorized into “the new N-word” to describe what Rawlings-Blake has since called “misguided young people.”
All of these folks mean well, I’m sure. I, too, have been criticized by some of my friends for using the T-word as it has become a new offspring of African-American political correctness. Yet if “thug” helps to give us moral clarity, let’s use it. We need to distinguish responsible protesters of Gray’s death from the thugs who exploit the tragedy as an excuse to riot, loot and beat people up.
The clear moral messages of political protest in Baltimore and other cities must not be clouded by the outbreak of violence that creates new victims, including police officers. Just as we condemn those police who abuse their offices, we must support those who are properly doing their jobs.
And our hearts should go out to Angry Mom, a mother of six who was determined to protect her only son after cases like Gray’s showed that she could not trust police to do it. It won’t be easy to restore that trust, but there won’t be much peace without it.