The Smack Heard Across the Nation

A woman could become the next president. But it may not be Hillary Clinton. Today, the woman dominating national media is Toya Graham.

Ms. Graham, a single mother in Baltimore, became a headliner without hiring a campaign team or media spokesperson. She did it by being a mother to her son.

After telling 16-year-old Michael to go to school Monday morning and not to go to Mondawmin Mall, where he said his friends were going, she took her daughter to a doctor’s appointment. But, at the doctor’s office, her daughter saw a news report that schools were closing early and trouble was brewing at Mondawmin Mall. “Mom, you better go there.”

And go she did, only to recognize her son — hidden by a hoodie and a ski mask — throwing rocks at police officers. Seconds later, he turned, saw her, and made eye contact. Then came the uh-oh moment.

“I’m a no-tolerant mother. Everybody who knows me knows I don’t play that,” Graham told CBS News. “He knew. He knew he was in trouble.”

Michael’s first instinct was to run. But his mother’s instinct was faster and stronger. “To see my son come from across the street with a rock in his hands … I just lost it.” Not thinking about the crowd, the cameras, or anything else, Graham literally took matters into her own hands. She came out swinging. After whacking him in the head — gaining his attention — and giving him a few choice words to the unwise, she pulled off Michael’s mask, as she shoved and dragged him away from the scene.

Within seconds, the fight of the year was all over the news. By nightfall, she was nominated Mom of the Year.

First in line to vote for her was Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts, who told reporters, “You had one mother who grabbed her child who had a hood on his head and she started smacking him on the head because she was so embarrassed. … I wish I had more parents that took charge of their kids out there tonight.”

But it wasn’t embarrassment that motivated Graham. “I was shocked, I was angry, because you never want to see your child out there doing that.” But, most of all, “That’s my only son and at the end of the day I don’t want him to be a Freddie Gray.”

Graham is painfully aware of the unexplained death of Freddie Gray while in police custody. And she understands the problems of the community and their strained relations with the police. She said if her son had wanted to take off from school to attend Freddie Gray’s funeral, she would have allowed him to go. “But to stand up there and vandalize police officers, that’s not justice.”

Graham’s daughter Tameka Brown said, “She has always been tough and knows where we are at.”

From New York, Congressman Charles Rangel weighed in with his own awed salute: “Here’s a kid that will take a brick and throw it at a cop … but ducks when his mother comes to slap him!”

A cartoon by Randy Bish in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review shows a police officer in full riot gear saying, “You’ve left us no choice. We called your mothers.”

Despite the publicity, though, Graham doesn’t think she’s a hero. Her overwhelming, visceral reaction was simply to get her son to safety. She knew Michael didn’t have a “perfect relationship with the police in Baltimore.” And she wanted to make sure he didn’t become another statistic.

“My son is my everything,” Graham said. “Is he the perfect boy? No, he’s not, but he’s mine.”

Graham is an unemployed single mother of one son and five daughters. She doesn’t need a Ph.D. to know the score and to know the streets. She knows what it is to struggle. But, most important, she knows her priorities. First and foremost, she is a mother.

She knows she can’t go on protecting her children forever. They are going to go out and make their own decisions. But she tries to do everything she can to make sure her children don’t take to — or become victims of — violence and vandalism in the streets.

“As parents we just have to follow through to make sure that’s where they supposed to be at.”

No public comment yet from Michael. But his friends sent messages that should help smooth his ruffled feathers. They told him, “Give your mother the biggest hug.” And another told him, “You better buy her the best Mother’s Day Present.”

Being a mother means taking responsibility … and teaching your children to be responsible.

A White House spokesman said the Baltimore mother who chased her son away from a riot with police represented “a powerful expression about the role that parents can play.” It’s much more than a role they “can play.” It’s a responsibility they must fulfill.