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Baltimore Riots Mom Toya Graham: Hero is, as hero does

Written By | May 1, 2015

LOS ANGELES, May 1, 2015—Unless you were on a media blackout—and I would not blame you if you were—most know about Toya Graham, the Baltimore mom who forcefully removed her 16-year-old son Michael from the Baltimore riot chaos.

Michael decided to go rogue with his friends, donned a ski mask, and was going to throw rocks at the police trying to contain the violence. Toya Graham has said in interviews that she had gone down to the riots with her daughter, and standing there recognized her son – his baggy pants – and then they made eye contact and she “lost it” giving him a beat down for all to see.

Someone videoed the exchange, it went viral, and Toya Graham is being lauded as a hero by most Americans.

The use and abuse of the Black community

Anthony Batts, the Baltimore city police commissioner gave her an honorable mention in a press conference:

“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,” Batts said. “I wish I had more parents who took charge of their kids tonight.”

I would surmise many of the residents of Baltimore wished the same, particularly those who are suffering from the violence and chaos wrought this week: those CVS employees who have no job to go to because the rioters burned it down; people trapped at home and unable to get to work or take care of their needs because a curfew has shut down the city; and nightlife businesses that are closed and losing money because of this same curfew.

Just as it has been proven from past instances of violent unrest, the only people it hurts are the ones in the affected communities. Talk to the people of Ferguson or South Los Angeles about how quickly a community gets rebuilt after such unrest; if nothing else, this should give Black people pause before they choose to burn down their own neighborhood.

But back to Ms. Toya Graham. Apparently some people are not enamored with her behavior, saying she is “No Hero” for using violence to keep her child from committing violence.

First, the concern-trolling Michael A. Cohen weighed in via the Boston Globe opinion page:

“Since this story broke, however, I’ve been trying to think of another situation in which publicly whaling on a child would be met with such praise. Would we say the same if the child being hit was a girl or if Graham were white? It’s a reminder that, seemingly, one of the last acceptable forms of violence in America is when a parent hits a child.”

Mr. Cohen is under the impression that ruthlessly snatching someone from a volatile situation and a pattern of habitual violence are the same thing. Would he be so “concerned” if Toya Graham had shoved Michael out of the way of a truck that was roaring towards him at breakneck speed? Doubtful. Well, Ms. Graham’s actions on Monday were the type of situation that required drastic measures, and she was brave enough to apply the measure, without thinking about whether it was correct by society’s standards or not.

Martin Luther and Alveda King: Breaking black America’s chains

Then there is Joan Walsh over at Salon, always seeing racism and white privilege in every nook and cranny, straining to explain, “The hideous white hypocrisy behind the Baltimore “Hero Mom” hype: How clueless media applause excuses police brutality“:

“I’m aware that a lot of African Americans are lauding Graham, too. This piece isn’t directed at them. Whether they applaud or critique Graham’s corporal punishment, most black people debating the issue acknowledge that the desperate public beating came from centuries of black parents knowing they have to discipline their children harshly, or else white society will do it for them – and they may not survive it.”

Here is where you need to check your white privilege, Joan: Making paternalistic excuses for African-Americans exhibiting the same behavior for which you excoriate your white counterparts. This Black woman writer applauds Toya Graham because she took swift and proactive action to not only discipline but protect her child.

Centuries of black parenting be damned: pulling someone from the fire is the right thing for a person of any color to do; and if we had more Toya Grahams willing to do this, I bet half the issues we have with our youth would not be present.

Continuing to pour milk over stupid, Ms. Walsh laid bare her racial myopia with this galling statement:

“The hypocrisy of the white mainstream applauding Graham is sickening. Let’s be honest: many white folks are reflexive critics of the greater frequency of corporal punishment in the black community.  Witness the media horror at Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson beating his young son. If Graham beat her child like that in the aisles of CVS, you can be sure somebody would call CPS.”

The news media’s hypocrisy is clearly evident in this; no doubt about it. However, Walsh’s ire is totally misplaced. Who exactly led the charge against Adrian Peterson beating his son? Last I checked, it was Left-leaning journalists like Ms. Walsh.

And who is hell-bent on a campaign to penalize parents for gradually teaching their children to navigate on their own by learning to walk a few miles home by themselves, and applauding Child Protective Services for taking the children from the home?

Last time I checked, it was the Left.

Who advocates for less parental consent and control in their children’s lives, including the school administrators who shame children and parents for including Oreos in a lunch, and so-called “choice advocates” who encourage underage abortions without parental consent?

Last time I checked, it was the Left.

So Americans—white, black, brown, green, whatever—applauding Toya Graham for taking control and swift action to get her son out of a troubling and life-threatening situation was more than appropriate, it was life or death.

No hypocrisy here, Joan. Although I cannot say the same for you and your ilk.

It’s time for a national dialogue on White privilege and Black responsibility

But I need to take some of our conservative folks to task as well for their need for perfect representatives to embody the principles of strong and decisive parenting.

Conservative talker Heidi Harris prefaced her Facebook posting of the viral video with, “Too bad she is a single mother of SIX…”. Why too bad, Heidi? So, would her actions be more laudable if she was a single mother of one or a married mother of 10? Would you feel better if she were Michelle Duggar administering the discipline? What does her lack of marital status and amount of kids have to do with the fact that her actions were justified?

All we know of Toya Graham is that she is doing her best to save her son from, as she said, being another Freddie Gray; let’s not use her state of affairs as a judgment on whether she is worthy of the title “hero” or not.

That statement makes you appear no better than Joan Walsh dancing on her white privilege soapbox.

Conservative analyst and radio host Larry Elder posted this cartoon on Twitter and asked, “This is all well and good. BUT, WHERE IS HIS FATHER?”

Great question, Larry, as this is your area of laser focus. Where is the father to help the mom administer discipline to mold the 16-year old son’s decision-making? Having grown up without a father, I can attest that a Dad’s firm hand and partnership with my mother would have held more weight in my life. So I can agree with Larry that much of the mess we see in the Black communities is linked to the rampant fatherlessness.

But with all that is going wrong in Baltimore, let’s not minimize Toya Graham’s correct and decisive action, and the example she set that used to be the norm in our communities, but has sadly fallen to the wayside.

Toya Graham said in a CNN interview with Anderson Cooper,  “As long as I have breath in my body, I will always try to do right by Michael, and show him that what’s going on out in society doesn’t have to be YOU.”

Bingo. The herd mentality of the violence overshadowing the peaceful protests in Baltimore is evident. Here is my question: what have these violent uprisings begotten except more paralyzed and disabled black communities?

Seriously, if Toya Graham reflects anything, it is that the black community needs to employ urgent methods to address this ugliness—not more visits from Al Sharpton and swallowing false narratives fed by the media and feckless black leaders like Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake hook, line, and sinker.

As this writer stated back in December, “Now that the justice system, our first Black president, and the Great Society programs have failed, what will we do? A good place to start is old school—like getting educated—especially on the issues that affect us. The people who change the system are the ones that know how it works, and there is a stunning level of ignorance in this arena over the two cases [now three] that are fomenting such rage.” [#BlackLivesMatter–a hashtag bandaid over the gaping wound of Black problems]

A Black woman named “BattleCat” posted this video that should go as viral as the Toya Graham video. It speaks to the issue of the lack of parental involvement and accountability, and what needs to be done to resolve it. Warning: Very strong language.

Frederick Douglass said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” I wish Toya Graham well in raising Michael and her five daughters, and doing what she can to keep them from the devastation that surrounds them.

What she did is a pivotal component of this, whether people agree with it or not.

Jennifer Oliver OConnell

Jennifer Oliver OConnell

Jennifer Oliver OConnell offers witty, insightful, and direct opinion, analysis and musings on local and national politics and popular culture, with occasional detours into reinvention, food, and Yoga. Jennifer also teaches Yoga, and coaches clients on careers and reinvention. You can keep up with what's in Jennifer's orbit through her As the Girl Turns website.