Among the startling images to emerge from riots in Baltimore this week, one sticks out: a fed up mother smacking her son repeatedly for joining the violent demonstrations.
Toya Graham caught her 16-year-old son Michael in a hooded sweatshirt and a mask at Monday’s riots, which transformed the port city into a battle zone of torched cars, blazing building and looted stores.
Cameras caught Graham delivering a harsh — and very public — punishment to her son, belting him several times as she drags him away from the angry crowd.
“I just lost it,” said Graham, a single mother of six.
“I was shocked, I was angry, because you never want to see your child out there doing that,” she added, speaking to CBS News on Tuesday.
More than 250 people were arrested following the unrest, in which 20 police officers were wounded.
Baltimore has been the scene of daily demonstrations since Gray’s death of a severe spinal injury on April 19, a week after he was arrested.
Graham, who calls herself a no-nonsense mother, said she only had her son’s best interest in mind.
“That’s my only son and at the end of the day I don’t want him to be a Freddie Gray,” she said.
“There’s some days that I’ll shield him in the house just so he won’t go outside and I know that I can’t do that for the rest of my life,” said Graham.
“I’m a no-tolerant mother. Everybody that knows me, know I don’t play that.”
The video of Graham smacking her son has lit up the Internet, earning her the title “hero mom,” and even caught the attention of Baltimore’s police commissioner Anthony Batts, who commended the discipline.
“I wish I had more parents who took charge of their kids tonight,” he said, according to CBS.
Officials imposed a 10:00 pm curfew in Baltimore Tuesday, and the streets remained calm overnight.
Graham said raising her son right is a constant struggle, and she can only do so much to keep him on the right path.
“You can talk blue in your face to your children, but at the end of the day they’re going to make their own decisions. As parents we just have to follow through to make sure that’s where they’re supposed to be at,” she said.
But her tactic seems to be working — while her son might not be scared to confront the police, he sure was intimidated by his own mother.
“He knew he was in trouble,” Graham said.
“He said ‘when I seen you… ma, my instinct was to run.'”