A Baltimore mom is being called a hero after she was seen on camera repeatedly hitting her teen son to prevent him from joining a group of youngsters who were hurling rocks at police. Toya Graham told CBS News that when she spotted her 16-year-old son, Michael, among the protesters she snapped.
“I just lost it,” she said. “I was shocked, I was angry, because you never want to see your child out there doing that.”
In the video, Graham can be seen punching, slapping, and yelling at her son to “take you’re a** home!”
Graham’s frustration is palpable, and as a mother of a son, I understand her fear. Protecting our sons can sometimes feel impossible, particularly when it seems like every week another young person becomes a hashtag.
I can’t begin to image how Graham felt when she saw her son amid the charged group of young people expressing their anger and pain over yet another young man killed by police for no conceivable reason at all. No doubt many of the young people felt they could easily be Freddie Gray, and considering the city’s history of police violence, maybe they knew someone who had already met a similar fate in “Black Baltimore.”
All of this—how easy it is for our sons and daughters to be killed without consequence–was probably weighing on Graham’s heart when she dragged her son home.
Still, I wish she’d handed it a different way.
My opinion on hitting kids is clear. I don’t believe it’s a healthy or effective long-term discipline strategy. There’s just too much evidence that says that hitting not only makes kids more aggressive, but it can also change the way their brain works.
And let’s just keep it real. While many people will mightily claim that being hit as a kid kept them out of trouble, prisons and graveyards are full of people whose parents never spared the rod.
While I’m not judging Graham for using any means necessary to get her son out of a quickly escalating situation, far too many parents subscribe to the notion that they’d rather beat their kids than let the police do it.
But here’s the thing. The police will do it anyway, no matter what you do.
Spanking “discipline” and “respect” into our children hasn’t stopped white supremacy from lynching, abusing and shooting them to death.
— Terrell J. Starr (@Russian_Starr) April 29, 2015
The police don’t care if you choose times outs or belts, or if you smacked your son every time he got out of line or not. The police don’t care if you taught him to say yes sir or no sir, or curse like a sailor or not. The police don’t care if you had “the talk” about how to interact with them or not.
As we’ve seen time and time again, respectability won’t save anyone. It didn’t work in the Civil Rights Movement when men and women put on their Sunday’s best to confront racist cops who still brutalized them, and it doesn’t work today as kids are admonished for wearing hoodies and sagging pants, as if it actually matters what they have on when they are abused and killed.
The police do not care. And hitting your son won’t shield him from a system that views him as suspicious simply because he exists. If it did, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation right now, because parents have been hitting since forever, and it hasn’t stopped the police from doing the same.
Each and every time the police kill someone it seems like we wring our hands about what they did or didn’t do to provoke it, instead of questioning why they were killed in the first place.
When a NYPD officer choked Eric Garner to death, folks said, “Well, he shouldn’t have been selling loose cigarettes.”
When 12-year-old Tamir Rice was gunned down within two seconds of police arriving on the scene people questioned, “But why was he playing with a toy gun?”
When Rekia Boyd was shot in the head while sitting in her car and minding her own business, people wondered, “Why was she out so late?”
When Freddie Gray ended up with a severed spine after making eye contact with an officer and taking off, people said, “He shouldn’t have run.”
Sadly, young Black folks—even those raised “right” or hit or talked to constantly—are racially profiled by police officers on college campuses and in neighborhoods. They’re far more likely to be stopped than their white counterparts, and sadly, no amount of preventative beatings or time outs can, or will, stop that.
If we really want to protect our children from the police we can’t beat them into submission out of fear, we must push for substantive changes in the justice system; increased economic opportunities for our neighborhoods; better schools; and equal and fair protection under the law.
Until that happens we will keep seeing more uprisings across the country. Baltimore is only the beginning.