Ethics Hero: Toya Graham, The Baltimore Riot’s “Mom of the Year”

It is odd that the now-anointed “mom of the year” is a woman videotaped beating her son, and rather violently at that. That’s the Ethics Incompleteness Principle for you: even conduct that is “always” unethical may be made ethical by unusual circumstances. Seeing your grown son participating in looting and rioting that are destroying your neighborhood changes the rules, or perhaps makes them inapplicable.

Here is what the unidentified woman (UPDATE: Her name is Toya Graham) was doing that is an ethical duty: she was fixing the problem to the extent she could. Utilitarian? Yup. Would Kant approve? Well, if every mother of those rioters intervened, they would have had more success than the Baltimore police did.

As for the Golden Rule, her conduct passes that test as well. If I were getting pulled into violent, mindless mob violence like that kid, I would want my caring parents to stop me by any means short of shooting me. If it were my son wearing that hood, I’d be tackling him.

I don’t know if she’s really “Mom of the Year”—I’d like to think that a really exemplary mother won’t raise a rioter.  She’s an Ethics Hero, though, beyond question.

43 thoughts on “Ethics Hero: Toya Graham, The Baltimore Riot’s “Mom of the Year”

  1. Damn! Penn beat me out again!!

    I’d also say that, if more parents were of this mold, there would be no need for riot police or National Guardsmen. Moms armed with switches and hairbrushes would more than suffice.

  2. As a former fifteen year old boy, I think we can stipulate that as far as fifteen year old boys are concerned, mothers are different from fathers. Fathers get a fifteen year-old’s attention. Mothers can always be charmed by their little boys. If the father had been there, he’d have simply told his son to stop or said “get over here,” grabbed him by the collar, dragged him away and dealt with him in private. No fists would have needed to have been involved; a finger in the face and strong words would have been sufficient.

    Here, you’ve got a teenaged boy humiliated by his admirably-intentioned but naturally over-matched mother who has to windmill away a,t and chase after, her son. She’s been forced to do a man’s job, i.e., discipline her son. Having the mother do it just isn’t the same.

    You don’t need to look any further than this clip for an explanation of the tragedy of single parenting.

  3. Sure, if she is a single mother of six, it appears that she is the only ethical person in sight. Where is the dad or dads?

    Don’t demonize the mom — demonize the assholes who father these children then leave.

    • Don’t demonize either without more information. It doesn’t say never married, how many fathers, deadbeat dads, age, or anything else that might give us a clue. I could guess her age and suspect irresponsible behavior since she’s apparently a grandmother going by one of the photo captions I saw, but she could be a lot older than she looks.

      • Usually moms who share custody with their kids’ dad or otherwise receive support from them or the paternal family do not refer to themselves as single moms.

        • That’s kind of the point, I think, but how relevant is that? She was being a Mom, pretty much reacting like any other Mom I’ve ever seen who had a clue. She saw her son engaging in an illegal and dangerous activity and reacted…”What the HELL are you doing?”

        • In what world? Every divorced-and-not-remarried-with-kids woman I know refers to herself as a single mother even though they all are getting child support and the fathers all have the standard custody rights or more.

          • Ha — I often joke that I am a single mom, even though I’m married, but it’s just that — a joke. If a woman gets “true” support from the father, she doesn’t say that. If she does, then she’s an outlier.

            • you sure you’re not succumbing to the typical mind fallacy? You may be the outlier rather than the women who call themselves single moms despite getting support. Also, define “true support”…

            • Now, several of the unmarried mothers I know lie about the amount of support they get so they can qualify for added benefits. My ex-sister-in-law lied about her level of support to get her kids on Medicare (despite their father paying for health insurance for them) and free daycare (despite their father paying for daycare). She would take them to the doctor’s office, pay the co-pay, then go back and tell them to rerun the bill through Medicare (with no co-pay). Once she got her co-pay refunded, she would take the initial receipt and have her my brother-in-law reimburse it. She got to choose the daycare they went to, so she picked one that her friend ran. DHS helped her fraudulently get free day care, but she didn’t tell her ex-husband that. He would pay the bill to the daycare and her friend would kick it back to her. With the added $400/month above the court agreed-upon child support, do you think she was receiving ‘true’ support? Oh, and my brother-in-law has the kids every other week during the summer months and every weekend he can get.

        • I don’t think that really applies; most of the unmarried mothers I know call themselves “single mothers”, an just about all have an involved father.

  4. Why are white people who have more than 2.3 kids demonized by the left but this woman gets a pass? Surprised you didn’t speculate that she was raped six times in our current rape culture.

  5. I threw out the following about when you got on board.

    “Maybe we can discuss the ethics of being a single mother of six while we’re on the topic?”

    That’s where the rambling started. I figured the topic was this mother’s ethics.

    • It was (and is) but specific to an observable behavior…not allowing her minor son engage in an illegal and remarkably dangerous activity. In that respect, I believe her ethics are admirable. Why she has 6 kids and how she treats the other children is pure speculation, and, hence, a discussion of her ethics regarding them is also speculation (I was going to say ‘speculatory’ but the spell-checker informed me that I had made up a word).

    • And my response is simple — where is the father, or fathers? At least she is present. She is the *most* ethical person in this situation given that she is the only one there.

      Do I think it is unethical for anybody (married or not) to have children that they can’t take care of? Of course I do. Do we have demonstrative evidence that is the case here? No, we don’t. Was she once married? Did he abandon her? Was he killed? If so, in an accident? Was he in the military? There are lots of reasons why women become single mothers. The reason we don’t talk about the widespread problem of single fathers is that there isn’t one. The men are more than a part of the problem, they are the biggest contributor to the problem. The men run away from their responsibilities and the women get blamed — whether they have an abortion, give up the baby, or try to raise the baby.

      In any event, we have no evidence that she is an irresponsible or otherwise bad parent based on this video alone. Teenage boys do stupid things. If this was a riot due to a loss in a sporting event, would we immediately be questioning how these kids were raised? No. Instead, the rioting always is examined in isolation.

      • You do NOT know enough to call her the most ethical, because as you note you have no idea why the father isn’t in her life. Your bias is showing. There are numerous cases of fathers who are not in their child’s life through no choice of their own. I am aware of no measured statistics for whether it’s more common for fathers to abandon or for mothers to shove them away, but I’d like to see some before I accept that the men OR women are the primary problem.

        • There is no way that anyone (absent a court order) could shove me away from my children. That’s a pathetic explanation for any parent (male or female) to make.

          • So, you’ve never read any of the cases of fathers being denied rights by the mother and the courts utterly failing to do anything about it?

            • Such cases are not the norm. And when it does happen, the fathers aren’t trying hard enough. In every state, you can challenge custody (again and again) until the child reaches majority.

          • Beth, I have three sons…one of whom is estranged, by his own choice. And, to be honest, all three are in their 40’s so the choice is obviously theirs. Still, if anybody were to tell me I couldn’t see them or their children (my grandchildren…with 2 GREAT grandchildren) they would see the beginnings of World War III. I love them…so much so that at times it hurts. But, sadly, I also recognize that there are people out there who do not care. As a for instance, I have not seen my biological father since I was 6 years old. I just recently found out that he passed away in 1995, but it took some searching to find that out. Nobody in his family cared enough to try to find me and let me know. I’m not alone, and I’m fairly lucky in that my mothers family loved both me and my kids. Not enough, unfortunately, to make up for losing my father. So, yeah, there are fathers out there who don’t care. And there are more than you might think. I don’t know what else to say. It is a problem, and somehow, it needs to be fixed.

              • Thanks, Beth. I wasn’t so much trying to garner sympathy (but will take all I can get) as indicate that I was familiar with “missing father” syndrome. In my father’s case, I’m sure he had his reasons but in my mind, he never once considered what effect his absence was having on me. A bit ego-centric, I know, but there it is.

                • Dragin, thanks for being willing to share that; it makes you a lot more human and real to me. That can’t help but be a good thing.

  6. Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, this is what’s going around on the net regarding this incident (from Salon, but I’ve seen it on FB as well)-

    “The debate over the moment Graham says she “lost it” is complex. There’s a parallel black debate going on that, as always when it comes to racial issues, is richer and more nuanced. But anyone white who’s applauding Graham’s moment of desperation, along with the white media figures who are hyping her “heroism,” is essentially justifying police brutality, and saying the only way to control black kids is to beat the shit out of them.”


    • … and how about the craven, forced apologies for using “thugs” rather than “our children” to describe the rioters, er, protesters. Nice. I think the term is “Orwellian.” Hair pulling stuff.

  7. I am surprised at this response. For a number of reasons. In any other circumstance, this woman probably would be going to jail. But if we watch the video more closely, the following observations can be made: 1. This child was leaving with his mother and she was so angry that she chases him to pull him back towards her to continue the beating. He appeared to be complying and in her anger continued to the assault the kid during the walk away. 2. The child was not in imminent danger. There are bystanders all around I saw no rocks being thrown in this video nor police for that matter. It does not appear the threat of losing his life was immediately in front of them. 3. The assault starts with a few closed fisted strikes as well as continuing with opening fisted strikes or what people are calling “smacks”.

    Exemplary action on the part of this mother would not have been beating her son as he walked away from the riot, however, it would have included not allowing a 16 year out of her supervision to wander in the riot in the first place.

    My real concern is the hypocrisy relating to the feelings behind the beating this mother gave her son. She was angry and for obvious reasons. She apparently saw him on television (because she apparently did not know where he was otherwise that she had to watch the television to locate her child) and when she finally went and found him, and he had obviously given up as he was walking with her, she was so angry, that she began to hit the child.

    How is this any different than a cop pursuing a suspect in a chase fueled with emotion and adrenaline and once the suspect is apprehended after giving the officers chase get subsequently beaten by officers because they are angry. Angry at the defiance of the suspect even when he submits. This child was also submitting after his defiance and shown to be walking with her when this beating started. How can this possibly be an acceptable way to parent this child? Why was this child allowed into the streets at this time in the first place? And how can we see this as an act of anything other than a beating in anger over her son’s defiance.

    Has anyone considered that this type of parenting may be the root of this child’s reasoning for acting out in violence? If this is a learned behavior, we know exactly where he got it from. I’ve read many comments as to a lack of understanding as to how a black mother raises her child and that physical violence is a part of it. If that’s so, and her acts are exemplary, then why are the stats alarming and growing as to the number of incarcerated African- American men? Has anyone considered that this type of parenting, that people have commented is normal and unique to an African-American mother, might be a large part of this child’s issue?

    I fail to see how her assault out of obvious anger is justified as he was acting out ironically in the way he’d been taught. And more ironically, acting out against the violence and subsequent death of a young man at the hands of law enforcement. Possibly a young man with the same issues as this child shown being beaten. Not only do we allow the picking and choosing of the acceptable circumstance of violent behavior for our social convenience, we are praising a woman for doing what may have irreparably harmed this child mentally in the first place. The double standard is larger than life here. What message are we sending to this child and others like him when we allow him to be abused at the hands of his mother, yet continue to relay the confusing message that violence is not a way of communication.

    Apparently, we ARE saying that IT IS by condoning what this mother did and not analyzing the situation deeper. I read today this child’s mother also has a history of violence with a temporary peace order/restraining order filed against her in 2011 in Baltimore. I’m not sure where the child’s mere presence in this situation acting out in a way that his mother has obviously influenced, justifies a beating (yes, a closed fist for a few punches is beating ) at the hand of the woman who is largely behind his behavior? I can’t be the only one to see this “life saving” beating “out of love” and feel that what I’m seeing is absolutely wrong and shouldn’t be praised or encouraged – am I? We are so quick to assess a decision based on our internal moral compass and our own learned behavior that we tend to forget that the misconduct of a person does not justify the misconduct of another person against that person just because the mother Says it was out of love. Are we really turning into that type of society?

    I’m having a hard time jumping on the praise train of violence. Violence begets more violence. And in my opinion, interpreting this beating as an justifiable act of love is ridiculous and dangerous. I’m also not saying it’s a malicious act of hate. But it is anger. Not love . And it should not be confused. It’s a response that she has been taught to muscle memory. That does not make it right. Not even if she is his mother. I’m not questioning this mother’s love nor blaming her for acting out in the way she was taught. At all. I’m questioning society for not seeing through the actions or being part of a solution that could help to end violence, reform law enforcement and take away the reason these people are rioting in the first place – which is not to accept violence as a answer to the question – which happens to be violence.

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