Revisiting the “Hero Mom” of Baltimore

How to make it big in America if you’re not blessed with charisma, athleticism or a high degree of beauty.

Run up on your child and smack the shit out of him in front of a line of police and media from all over the country.

That’s what Toya Graham did. It almost worked.

The Slizzapp heard round the world. Photo from the NYpost

The Slizzapp heard round the world. Photo from the NYpost

Days before Mrs. Graham’s less than metioric rise, a boy named Freddy Gray made eye contact with a police officer. Then he ran.

In most places of the civilized world, making eye contact isn’t illegal. It was, however, punishable by death during Jim Crow. And in Baltimore’s inner city, as well as Philadelphia, New York, Chicago and countless other cities, it is automatic probable cause.

In these Stop and Frisk jurisdictions, it is extremely easy to end up in the back of a squad car, or worst. The offenses include sitting on your stoop, running for any reason, walking down the street, or making eye contact.

Freddie Gray made eye contact, and then he ran. The next time he was seen, he couldn’t walk at all. He was being carried like a CPR dummy between two Baltimore police officers.

It was a “rough ride” to the precinct. That’s where the van hits every pothole and takes every turn hard. It is a routine exercise designed to scare the hell out of the occupants, none of whom were seatbelted in.

Freddie Gray died that day. His spine had been severed. They don’t know if the arresting officers did it, or if it took place in the van, or if there was a combination of injuries. The fact that there were so many opportunities for this to have happened, is horrifying.

But, if Gray’s treatment at the hands of the Baltimore PD had been an isolated incident, there would have been no outrage. No cameras. No activists swooping in from all over the country, and no pundits giving play by play.

Minutes before the riot that made Toya into a hero,

the Baltimore’s school district dismissed all of its students, including her son, at the same time. Hundreds of students flooded the subways to go home. And as groups of them emerged, they were met with riot police with shields and helmets.

Similar tactics were used in Ferguson. Those tactics have since been criticized for taking a manageable situation and escalating it until stones were traded with tear gas canisters and mace. The decision to send all of the children home at the same time has also brought scrutiny.

But there is no doubt that Toya’s son, Michael Singleton was there, dressed in all black with ski mask, throwing stones at the riot police.

What happened next was the coming of age of a generation raised on “I brought you into this world, and I’ll take you out!”

I can’t even get mad at Toya. For one thing, I don’t know what I would do if I came up on my son or daughters throwing stones at the police. It might look a lot like that; shirts grabbed, punches thrown, explitive heaped upon explitive.

I’ve seen many a Hotep brother and sister blame Toya for literally slapping and cursing the Revolution. They claimed that they would have come down with a trunk full of Frantz Fanon books to distribute, and case loads of Milk of Magnesia to help eyes burned by tear gas.

That’s fine for their Hotep, RBG, Fight the Power spawn. But if the police decided for some reason to either open fire on, or jail the rock throwers, nobody would feel the pain of Michael Singleton’s loss the same as Toya.

I’m not going to cry her tears if she loses her son. I’m not going to tell her what to do to protect him.

But what followed wasn’t about Freddy Gray or making the city more livable for kids like her son. It wasn’t about police brutality or anything else but simple greed, and the hopes of an unlikely come-up.

Send in the Moms

Photos of her, with her son and one of the officers at the scene. Appearances on Good Morning America and CNN. Toya was trying to make the most of a terrible thing.

Toya’s daughter, Termeka Brown said this of the days following the showdown.

“Before I knew it, my mom and brother was leaving to go to New York, and people were calling me and telling me they had all different offers and scholarships for [my brother] and they wanted to sponsor [him] and some billionaire guy from New York who owns some bank or something like that had scholarships for all us for any college that we choose,” she said. “I didn’t know how they got my number.” Chicago Tribune

She recieved about $10,000 through a campaign; another $15,000 from Oprah Winfrey herself. She said that  BET, Under Armour and St. Joseph’s Hospital all offered her jobs.

She also became the go-to Black woman for conservatives. Ben Stein called her Rosa Parks of 2015. Word of advise to viral Black Parents. When people celebrate you for how well you put your hands on your kid, that’s a red flag. 

It isn’t surprising that Progressive Black folk were less than impressed. This is what Michaela Angela Davis had to say on CNN.

“She’s unemployed. She’s lonely, she’s poor, she’s out of options. That’s what that looks like.” She added: “She is a symbol and not a hero. She symbolizes . . . incessant brutality, violence, desperation and systematic violence.”

When folks stumble into the limelight, people almost always came out of the woodworks to tear her down. A brother that she no longer speaks to, crawled out of his hole to divulge Toya’s bouts with depression.

The jobs offers disappeared, but not because of Toya’s brother. They disappeared because the country had moved on. The calls stopped coming. And the money went as quickly as it came.

All of this would be far more tragic if she was a hero. She isn’t, though. She is a mother who loves her son. A mother who made a difficult decision, which played out in front of millions.

That’s all beautiful. She doesn’t have anyone to answer to for what she did that day. Unfortunately for her, you can’t make one televised ass-whupping into a career. That’s just not how it works.