CBS landed an interview with the most talked about person caught on camera during the Baltimore riots. But Toya Graham was not a rioter — she is a mother who saw her 16-year-old son Michael in the middle of the rock-throwing crowd. “He was coming across the street with a hoodie on and a mask. At that point I just lost it,” she told CBS News.
CNN and CBS called her the “tough love” mom. While the video spread across social media and on the air, it started when WMAR-TV photojournalist Manny Locke spotted Graham as she pushed her way through the crowd to get to her son. The video, which has been played hundreds of thousands of times on YouTube and news websites, shows Graham swearing at and repeatedly slapping her son on the side of the head. Between F-bombs, she demands that he remove his hoodie. The son turns towers over her and glares at her, but never raises his hands to her or offers much defense to her nonstop slapping. This mother is a commanding presence that captured national affection.
WMAR News Director Kelly Groft said the image of a mother confronting her son in the middle of all of the chaos “is what I think a lot of people wanted to see parents doing.”
Graham’s strong reaction to her son’s rioting captured the attention of Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts.
“I wish I had more parents who took charge of their kids tonight,” he said.
Graham, a single mother of six, told CBS News that she has been extremely protective of her son, at times keeping him indoors all day to protect him from trouble. “I know I can’t do that for the rest of my life, he is 16-years-old he is into the streets.” She added, “I just choose not to live like that no more and I don’t want that for him.”
WMAR has talked with Toya Graham before. The last time the TV station saw her, it was an act of violence that brought her within camera range. In August 2014, Graham talked to the TV station about an uptick of violence in her neighborhood. “Soon we’re not even going to be able to walk out of our doors,” she said last year.
On her Facebook page from last year, Graham posted a photo of her son with this passage and what appears to be a passage that he wrote:
When Michael saw his mother coming after him in the midst of the riot, Graham said he told her, “Mom when I seen you, my instinct was to run. I am a no-tolerate mother and everybody who knows me knows I don’t play that and he knew he was in trouble.”
While all the other media await their turn to talk with her, CBS promises a Wednesday morning live interview with Graham Wednesday morning on CBS This Morning.