Baltimore doesn’t need more mothers like Toya Graham

by Wendi C. Thomas | May 4, 2015 10:07 am

When Baltimore mom Toya Graham saw TV footage of her masked son joining rioters following the funeral of Freddie Gray, she found him on the streets and beat him.

Video of the pummeling has gone viral and Graham has been praised as the mother of the year.

But the 16-year-old boy’s actions aren’t the problem and Graham’s response isn’t the solution.

Every black mother in Baltimore could go ballistic on misbehaving children – and none of that parental violence would fix a system where police brutality goes almost completely unchecked.

The latest victim: Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old man whose spine was almost completely severed while in police custody in a police van on April 19. In a violation of departmental rules, officers didn’t put Gray in a seatbelt during the ride. He died a week later from his injuries.

Better parenting won’t make the Baltimore police department follow its own policies.

The universe won’t reward the vibrations parents send through young black bodies with an end to hyper-policing.

Public shaming of black teenagers can’t fix a corrupt culture where, as in Gray’s case and in an echo of Jim Crow laws, police detain black men simply because they made eye contact.

On Friday, a few minutes after Graham appeared on yet another morning TV show, prosecutors announced homicide and manslaughter charges against the six Baltimore officers involved.

If not for the killing of Gray, there’s no reason to believe that Graham’s son would have been in the street.

Much to my dismay, but as I suspected, too many white people (and a few black folks as well), latched onto the video as proof that the cause and the cure of the unrest lies in individual behavior.

Ben Carson, a neurosurgeon from Baltimore and the black darling of the Republican Party, called Graham a “wonderful example of parental responsibility.”

Also among the guilty was Baltimore Sun TV critic David Zurawik, who said Graham provided “a winning and upbeat storyline” and was “one of the most positive figures to emerge from the conflict so far.”

“Finally, an adult authority figure was saying, ‘enough,’” Zurawik wrote.

By implying that Graham was an outlier, Zurawik regurgitates a favorite conservative narrative of the dysfunctional black family.

This message is dangerous, dishonest and devoid of any historical context about the policing of black bodies in America.

It ignores even recent history: in the last four years, the Baltimore Police Department has paid out $5.7 million in settlements and judgments to victims of police violence, most of whom are black.

It absolves white people of any responsibility to dismantle a criminal justice system that, at every stage, treats blacks far more harshly than whites.

Baltimore doesn’t need more mothers like Toya Graham.

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