My heart goes out to Ms. Toya Graham and every mother trying to raise their children and protect them from harm in Baltimore and everywhere danger threatens.
It is too easy for us to be critical in our quiet reflective and comfortable places casting aspersions on her character or questioning her parenting techniques. This was not her submission to white supremacy nor an homage to corporal punishment, rather this was a mother’s desperate attempt in the heat of a seminal moment to keep her son from spiraling into the horrible and destructive violence that threatened the lives of everyone in the riots and confrontation, including her young son. And in the moment, Ms. Graham admits she “lost it.”
My friends of color speak of the breakdown of trust between police and people of color. They have shared the difficult and sad messages they teach their children of the special ways they must interact with police officers because they are African-American. They have shared the deep-seated fears for the safety of their children, only because of what they look like, to those who are supposed to protect them, let alone the challenges of living in a poor urban environment.
Our society struggles with severe problems and social ills that need to be addressed. The issues with the police in the United States are a symptom of larger and systemic problems, which have been ignored for too long. The boiling over of pent up rage and anger should not surprise anyone. But engaging in lawless and riotous action in the heat of confrontation only risks life and limb. It does not effect change and likely delays or prevents constructive change to deal with these underlying issues, which have festered for years.
Instead of criticizing Ms. Graham we should be demanding that she is given the tools and support necessary to offer hope to her son. We ignore what has been created at our own peril: a permanently disenfranchised underclass, without access to a life of peace, security, education, the ability to earn a living to support themselves and their families; A population living without hope or access to the life we hold dear.
Some may find Ms. Graham’s physical act unpleasant, extreme or even wrong, but arguably she rescued her son Michael’s life. She had the courage to dive into the horrible sea of violence and despair and rescue her son from drowning. So although Ms. Graham “lost it,” in that moment she saved her son.
Let us not be so quick to condemn Ms. Graham’s actions and turn instead our efforts to the important work of rebuilding our society. Let us focus on bringing the disenfranchised back into a place of belonging. Let us work to promote justice and opportunity under the law and a system that protects all its citizens. Let us remember as a nation we are all affected, that the Michaels and Freddie Grays are our children. Now it is time for us to get to work.