As Baltimore settled down to a tense first night of curfew, an African American single mother of six found herself being celebrated as a better answer to the city’s present problems.
Toya Graham found her 16-year-old son among rioters on Monday, all masked up. She just lost it: “That's my only son and at the end of the day I don't want him to be a Freddie Gray.”
Gray’s death from injuries suffered in police custody has turned Baltimore, a black-majority city just miles from the national capital, into America’s newest race challenge.
Graham pulled the young man out of the crowd, trying to push back his hoodie and smacked him a couple of times, yelling and screaming. Unknown to her, she was on camera.
And by late Monday night Graham was an internet sensation, hailed as the “mother of the year”, even as some quibbled about her methods, corporal punishment cannot be right.
But she had made more fans than critics. And Baltimore police commissioner Anthony Batts was among them, referencing the video in a conference with reporters.
“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,” he said.
“I wish I had more parents who took charge of their kids tonight, he added. The police said the first rioters came from a high school, and were mostly of around that age.
Baltimore had a quiet, largely uneventful night, under curfew, enforced by police officers and National Guard troops packing areas worst hit by rioting the previous day and night.
But Graham’s tough love was clearly the better strategy.
Graham is a single mother who is raising six children on her own. And she told a TV channel, “I'm a no-tolerant mother. Everybody that knows me, know I don't play that.”
More than 72% of African American children are born to unwed mothers and 67% live in single-parent homes, according to government statistics, which creates obvious problems.
President Barack Obama referenced the problem at a news briefing on Tuesday at which he dwelt at length on his views not just on Baltimore but all similar cases, such as Ferguson.
He spoke of situations “where there are no fathers who can provide guidance to young men” as something the community must address, among other things.
Graham’s way may fall short of copybook parenting, but she sure set an example for a lot of Baltimore mothers, or so the police commissioner said was his earnest hope.
Read: Baltimore: Race riots after funeral of black man; emergency declared, national guards deployed
Read: Police enforce curfew in riot-hit Baltimore