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The smack down in Baltimore
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Toya Graham is my nominee for mother of the year.

She’s a single mom of six who was caught on video this week smacking her 16-year-old son around.

Before those of you that have Child Protection Services on speed dial stroke out, the smack down came after she caught her son throwing objects at Baltimore Police during an active riot just hours after the funeral for Freddie Gray. Gray was the black man who died in police custody after sustaining an unexplained spinal injury.

Graham was quoted as saying, “I’m a no-tolerant mother. Everybody that knows me knows I don’t play that.”

The world needs more moms like Graham who act like parents and not like buddies.

Yes, I know. No one should hit anyone. Violence begets violence.

But here’s the thing. Kids have to know right from wrong. And sometimes that includes punishment.

It is clear that Graham simply doesn’t resort to beating her kids to make them behave.

If you doubt that consider what her son told her, when “I seen you, ma, my instinct was to run.”

Let’s be honest. Oftentimes 16-year-old boys with hormones raging and their ability to think things out sometimes limited to one second into the future need guidance and re-enforcement. Ideally that doesn’t include a smacking but the situation didn’t exactly scream for punishment to be inflicted later by requiring her son to be grounded for a week. To keep her son from getting in deeper, she literally caught his full attention.

If Graham didn’t take steps to control her son’s actions, he could have made things worse and even got arrested to start out life with a strike against him.

It was clear that avoiding such trouble was a rule of his mother’s. He tested it and he swiftly found out the price.

I’m sure psychologists are having a field day with this one as well as analyzing people who support Graham’s actions.

Parents only get one shot at helping a child build a foundation for success in life. By the same token a kid only gets one shot to grow up. Part of growing up has to be the instilling of standards, principles, respect, learning to restrain anger, and controlling impulses.

Was mom angry and impulsive? You could argue that. But given we’re talking about her trying to get her son to cease participating in a riot and engaging in uncivilized behavior, you can put aside the Dr. Spock child rearing books for a moment.

Extraordinary circumstances call for extraordinary actions. And given that the son was mortified to see his mom while engaging in anti-social violence and subsequently complied after the smacking, it’s safe to say mom did teach her son the difference between right and wrong but he opted to ignore it.

It’s sort of the natural order for teen boys to test limits and do impulsive things. Mom drove home the point that what he was doing wasn’t OK.

People — black, white, Asian or otherwise — shouldn’t die of unnatural causes in police custody. Exactly what happened in Baltimore has yet to be determined besides the fact a black man is dead after suffering an unexplained spinal injury while in police custody.

That said, people shouldn’t riot and burn down their neighborhoods inflicting pain and suffering on people that are often their neighbors and are not justifiable targets under any circumstance.

If a mother determines that the best way to control her 16-year-old son in such a situation to prevent him from doing others as well as himself harm is to smack him, then the more power to her.

There are no fuzzy lines.

It is not OK to hit your child just to hit your child. Smacking any child because you are angry or disappointed doesn’t hold any water. But if it takes a smack or two in the middle of a volatile situation to underscore how far they have crossed the line so it clicks in their head, then a parent is not out of line.

Children are not property. Nor do they simply learn right from wrong magically or do so without reinforcement.

Positive reinforcement is obviously the best. But if the times call for something a bit more physical, smacking from a mom’s backhand that stops a kid from impulsive participation in a riot and exposing himself to a life ruining arrest may indeed by justified.

But wherever you fall on the topic, it is abundantly clear that Graham sees her role first and foremost as a parent and not as a buddy.


This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at or 209.249.3519.