In the past couple of days as the aftermath of violent protesting in Baltimore unfolds, I’ve been thinking a lot. A lot about the people of Baltimore, the spouses and children of the law enforcement officers who faced hoards of (rightfully) enraged citizens, and especially the mums. The black mums. The black mums like Toya Graham who spotted her teenage son on the scene and hit him in a desperate attempt to get him out of the fray. You’ve no doubt seen the video by now; it’s gone viral as any shocking scene like this should be expected to. The media coverage has spanned from a “tsk-tsk” on hitting one’s kid to a “good for her — this violent protest shouldn’t be happening in the first place,” or “shame on these kids.” But they missed something. Something huge. They missed what was at the core — a mother’s desperate instinct to protect her child.
In an interview with “CBS This Morning,” the single mum of six kids said that she smacked her only son because she doesn’t want him to “be a Freddie Gray,” the 25-year-old black man who recently lost his life to severe spinal injuries after being in police custody last month. In my view, she did it to protect him, to wake up him, to remind him that he’s better than this. It was a reflex — fight or flight stemming from maternal instinct. Her feelings of dread and terror manifested in a knee-jerk reaction to just do. Do something, anything to protect her boy on that day.
Perhaps, she also did it out of anger that he should even have to face the truths that result from our country’s broken law enforcement system. Black men categorically don’t get a fair shake. I can’t think of a time I’d ever want to hit Willow, but the concept of watching my baby head out to fight a race war that should have long since disappeared is just too much. Especially with the understanding that your kid could easily be the next victim. We teach our children that violence isn’t the answer, but this mother-son interaction was just one tiny piece of a violent puzzle that has roots going much deeper than a protest in the streets of Baltimore.
I don’t have the answers — what do I know? I’m just a mum. A mum living a reality far removed from the conflict in Baltimore and the repeated events throughout the country that led to it. Watching from a distance as one deadly incident of police brutality after the next robs our country of young men is scary and devastating. As a mum it makes you think. It makes you hurt. We can’t judge something we don’t understand, so until you see your pride and joy run, fueled by anger, into the heart of a violent protest, don’t pass judgement on Graham. But don’t misinterpret her actions either. Any event that leads to human suffering or property destruction is not good. No mum wants her son involved in said event. But the point is in the underlying cause of this whole mess — and until mothers like Graham are able to stop being afraid when their sons leave the house, there isn’t peace for any mum, anywhere.
Photo: “CBS This Morning”