Baltimore Riots: Is the Mother Who Stopped Her Son from Rioting Truly a Hero?

Baltimore Riots: Is the Mother Who Stopped Her Son from Rioting Truly a Hero?

Another episode of viral videos have been welcomed, entailing mockery, laughter, and the usual weird and wonderful antics people display on social media platforms to entertain society, yet there is always that one that surpasses the rest and sticks out like a thumb. This week, it is a video showing a mother spotting her son taking part in the Baltimore riots, slapping some sense into him and, essentially, dragging him back home.

The Baltimore riots erupted after the death of Freddie Gray, a young black man. Similar to the death of Michael Brown, Freddie Gray’s death was associated with the police; Mr Gray passed due to spinal injuries that resulted from police custody. Once the news of the death of another black person supposedly inflicted by the police was publicised, it was inevitable there was going to be an emotional eruption and an overall state of public dismay. During the riots, in which people were protesting against Freddie Gray’s death, someone filmed the reaction of a mother who saw her son in the riots.

The video shows Michael Singleton, the 16 year-old son of Toya Graham, dressed in black from head to toe, and a mask covering half of his face. Instantly, one can deduce that this represents the stereotypical image society envisages, when making links between black people, gangs and anti-social behaviour. Yes, highly discriminatory but that’s society for you. This film then proceeds to show Michael’s mother, Toya throw herself towards her son, grab him and slap him. Toya pulls Michael away from the crowd, repeatedly slaps him, and, in frustration, asks her son to answer to her while taking him back home. It can be assumed Toya was peeved to find her son, who was supposedly holding a brick in his hand, partaking in a riot and other violent associations. Her disappointment from seeing her only son like that is understandable.

So what makes her a hero? After watching the video, many people held the view Toya Graham did the ‘right thing’ by chasing him out of the riots and back to his home-made Jollof rice with chicken. The Independent claimed Ms Graham was labelled “mother of the year” for this on Twitter. To the majority of the public who saw the clip, Toya was implementing good parenting skills by taking Michael away from trouble and letting her son know, in her own way, what he was doing was wrong. She saved her son from taking part in any criminal activities, displaying anti-social behaviour and, getting caught up in violence. Hence, it can be postulated the reason behind the public deeming Toya a “hero” is because she did the “right thing” and protected her son’s life.

However, Toya’s actions can be criticised. One can argue Toya’s aggressive mannerism, evident in the way in which she reprimanded her son, reveals her parenting skills on dealing with rebellion is socially undesirable. Her reaction also questions the idea of domestic conflict within their household. Moreover, does infringing on her son’s freedom make Toya a “hero”? It can also be argued that Toya took her son away from an activity he willingly wanted to participate in. Maybe Michael wanted to be part of the voice crying out against tragedies such as that of Michael Brown and Freddie Gray. Perhaps, Michael simply wanted to be part of the movement fighting for change. He has a right to protest. He is entitled to his own opinions. Therefore, his mother’s reaction could be deemed unfair for taking away his rights.

In my opinion, Ms Graham was portraying her maternal side rather than reacting the way she did to be labelled the “superwoman of Baltimore”. She was simply being a good mother. However, she did not merely display good parenting; her immediate reaction illustrates parenting done out of fear. Naturally, after previous incidents (Michael Brown and Freddie Gray) to seeing your son hooded and masked to hide his identity with a brick in his hand while taking part in an emotional uproar, any sane mother would be blowing into a pick ‘n’ mix bag of disappointment, anger and fear. Ms Graham was feeling all three of these emotions. She revealed she was upset, especially when she saw the brick in Michael’s hand, because he was not brought up like that. This further postulates, Toya did not raise her son to show disrespect and signs of violent behaviour. Hence why Toya was feeling angry seeing her son partaking in activities associated with, what Toya considers to be, unseemly and immoral behaviour. The notion of her embedded fear during the scene could be assumed to be triggered either by the idea that her son would get hurt in the violence or he could be caught by the police for displaying signs of anti-social behaviour. Therefore, one can conclude Toya was just being a mother. She was merely doing the “right thing” by her and her son.

Yes, Toya Graham was a hero. But, she was more a mother than a hero.

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