“That’s my only son, and at the end of the day, I don’t want him to be a Freddie Gray,” Toya Graham told CBS News on Monday evening. Earlier in the day, a video shot by local ABC station WMAR that showed Graham physically dragging her son out of the riots and repeatedly slapping him for taking part in the chaos, had gone viral online. Graham had recognized her son throwing rocks at police while watching live TV news coverage of the riots.
Graham, a single mother of six, said she was stunned to see her 16-year-old son, Michael, wearing a hoodie and participating in violence. “At that point, I just lost it,” she told CBS News. “I was shocked, I was angry, because you never want to see your child out there doing that.”
“He gave me eye contact,” Graham said. “And at that point, you know, not even thinking about cameras,” she recalled. “He knew he was in trouble.” Graham said that later on he told her, “Ma, my instinct was to run,” when he saw her arrive on the scene.
The video of Graham doling out a dose of tough love caught the attention of Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts, who praised her actions while talking with reporters. According to the Washington Post, Batts said, “And if you saw in one scene, you had 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.” The commissioner went on to say, “I wish I had more parents who took charge of their kids tonight.”
Many on Twitter also hailed Graham’s actions and crowned her “Mom of the Year.” And on Facebook, pages have sprouted up that also declare her “Mom of the Year” and suggest that she should run for mayor of Baltimore. The cover of the New York Post blared, “Forget the National Guard … Send In The Moms,” alongside a photo of Graham landing a slap on her son’s head.
But the video also prompted a discussion among some Internet users on parental discipline. Some on social media have been critical of Graham’s use of corporal punishment to discipline her son. Some have even suggested that there’s a racial element to the media frenzy over the story. It “falls into the category of white media applauding a black woman for beating up her son. As though that’s the only way to discipline a black child,” Joan Walsh wrote in Salon.
And the mother of a police brutality victim said Graham’s actions were “misguided.” Collette Flanagan, a Dallas woman who founded Mothers Against Police Brutality after her son was killed by police in 2013, told Think Progress, “I think she plays right into the hands of people who want to sweep this under the rug. I think she’s sent the wrong message to her son, who will probably never ever protest again because that experience with your own mother beating and berating you on TV … we need these young people to protest.” Flanagan added that she thought Graham’s “fear for her child overtook her better judgment.”
Flanagan also criticized the media for portraying Graham as a “hero mom.” For her part, Graham, appearing on CBS This Morning on Wednesday said “I don’t” feel like a hero. “My intention was just to get my son and have him be safe.”