A Baltimore mother being praised as a “mom of the year” candidate said she acted instinctively when she smacked her masked son in the face and dragged him home from riots over the death of Freddie Gray.
The video of Toya Graham and her 16-year-old son Michael went viral after she was seen on many live news broadcasts taking him away from the violent protests that led to more than 200 arrests, looting and fires Monday night, weeks after the 25-year-old Gray died after suffering mortal injuries while in police custody.
The mother of six can be seen in the video telling her son to “take his f***ing mask off,” and “get over here now,” as she chases him away from the other teens.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. ‘I Don’t Want Him to Be a Freddie Gray’
Graham, known only as the “mother in yellow” and “mom of the year” until Tuesday, gave her first interview to CBS News.
Graham said she was stunned by what she saw when the protests hit the streets near her home. Graham told CBS News:
I could see the objects being thrown at the police, and I was like in a awe, like, oh my God, this is really happening right here with me. And low and behold, I turn around and I look in this crowd, and my son is actually coming across the street with this hoodie on and a mask. At that point, I just lost it, and he gave me eye contact, and at that point – 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.
But to stand up there and vandalize police officers, that’s not justice. I’m a single mom, and I have six children, and I just choose not to live like that no more, and I don’t want that for him.
Graham, a single mom, is the assistant manager at the Powell Recovery Center, an in-patient alcohol and drug treatment center in Baltimore.
“I was angry, I was shocked. You never want to see your child out there doing that,” she told CBS.
2. The Police Commissioner Said More Mothers Should Be Like Her
Baltimore City Police Commissioner Anthony Batts mentioned Graham at a press conference, saying he saw a mother disciplining her son and taking him away from the rioting. He applauded her actions.
“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 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.”
Graham told CBS News that she thinks strong mothers could help stop the violence. Graham told CBS News:
I think it wouldn’t have been as worse as it was. But once again, we don’t know where those mothers (were) at. A lot of mothers have to provide for their children. You can make that phone call ‘get home, get home right now.’ At the end of the day, they’re going to make their own decision. As parents, we just have to follow through to make sure that’s where they’re supposed to be at.
A local parents group started a GoFundMe to raise money for her:
I have seen Online Fundraiser pages for some things that are not worth giving two cents to fund. This video is an example of the kind of parent who checks report cards; the kind of parent who prays for her child’s safety; the kind of parent who’d rather use tough love, up front, than to have to visit her child in prison. Think what you may of the hitting, but it’s equivalent to snatching your 2 yr-old by the neck to keep him from running across a busy street… to save his life. My family would like to personally donate to this mom, because she represents the kind of parent who would do whatever it takes to save her son. She didn’t care about the cameras, she cared about her son! We write this as a family of color with careers in law enforcement, but more importantly, we write this with love for the mothers and the fathers who will not stand for foolishness! There is a safer way to protest your concerns, but rioting and looting are not the way! Kudos to her.
3. She Talked About Violence in Baltimore After a Murder in Her Neighborhood
Graham knows first-hand about the violence that plagues her West Baltimore neighborhood. In August 2014 she heard gunshots and went outside her home, where she found a dying gunshot victim.
“Soon we’re not even going to be able to walk out of our doors,” she told ABC 2 News at the time. “That was somebody’s child, and it’s real overwhelming that somebody takes somebody’s life like that and he was just left there.”
On Tuesday, she told CBS News, “there are some days that I shield him in the house just so he won’t go outside. I know I can’t do that for the rest of my life. He’s 16 years old, you know, he’s into the streets.”
Graham said, “Is he the perfect boy? No he’s not! But he’s mine. I’m just grateful that I was able to get him hom,e and we actually sit back and watched the news and everything. He has Facebook friends, and everybody making comments and saying you know, you shouldn’t be mad at your mother, you should give her a hug, 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.”
4. She Saw Her Son Among Teens Throwing Rocks at Police
According to WMAR, Graham came to get her son after seeing him among a group throwing rocks at police along. The news station says “that didn’t sit well with her.”
“To stand up there and to vandalize police officers, that’s not justice,” she told CBS.
Her son, Michael, told her that his instinct was to run when he first saw her.
“I’m a no tolerance mother. Everybody who knows me knows I don’t play that, you know what I mean. … He knew he was in trouble,” Graham said.
5. Baltimore Police Had Asked for Parents to Come Get Their Kids
Most of the rioting in the city began when a large group of high school students began confronting police Monday afternoon after school. The protests and rioting escalated to looting and vandalism, and the age of those participating also went up.
According to police, the majority of the more than 200 arrests on Monday were adults. There were 34 juveniles arrested.