I don’t know if a 24 hour period has ever produced as many provocative, passionate and well-argued comments on Ethics Alarms before. This, commenter Holly’s reaction to my designation of the viral Baltimore mom Toya Graham clobbering her rioter son during the Freddie Gray disruptions in Charm City, is just one of several. I’ll address some of the issues she raises after the post; in the meantime, here is Holly’s Comment of the Day, in a day that will probably have more than one, on the post, “Ethics Hero: The Baltimore Riot’s ‘Mom of the Year’”:
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 close-fisted strikes as well as continuing with open-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 a 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 through 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 an answer to the question – which happens to be violence.
I like a lot of Holly’s questions, though she will probably not like my answers.
(I’m shifting out of italics now for readability’s sake….)
1. To answer her general complaint, I was acknowledging the apparent contradiction when I wrote, at the very beginning, “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.” I should have linked to all the explanations of the EIP for Holly’s benefit, I guess, although familiarity with blog format can reasonable be presumed: in the tags was this link: Ethics Incompleteness Principle. I don’t think it’s expecting too much from readers to assume they will check unfamiliar terms that are central to my analysis. Is it?
2. “In any other circumstance, this woman probably would be going to jail.” Yes, and if we hadn’t been at war with Japan, dropping that bomb on Hiroshima would have been inexcusable. Next!
3. I don’t know how Holly thinks she knows what her son said in their encounter. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t, “I’ll sorry Mom, you’re right, I should be here. Thanks for coming to get me. I am so ashamed.” I think it’s fair to assume that whatever he said, she did not seem it sufficiently contrite.
4. “The child was not in imminent danger.” Ridiculous. The kid was on the streets of Baltimore during rioting, and violence was everywhere. She was in imminent danger.
5. Holly seems to think that good parenting includes keeping teens under constant surveillance. She cannot be reasonably blamed for his turning up at the riot. I would love to see Holly’s commentary on the free-range kids controversy, also in Maryland.
6. If one’s child insists on endangering himself, risking a confrontation with police and participating in mob violence, and you are smaller, older and weaker, what are your options, Holly? She has to get him home. He’s bigger and stronger than she is, and in her view, which is all that matters, he is in mortal peril. Should she picket him? Make scary faces at him? Call a cop? As I mention here often, abstract ethics unhinged from reality are not really ethics at all. She did what she could to solve the problem, which was her obligation as a parent. As I wrote.
7. “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?” Huh? How is it similar? She wasn’t hitting him to hurt him, and almost certainly didn’t. She was making a point that she felt was of life-and-death importance. She was also parenting in a unique and desperate, in her view, situation. A cop who beats a suspect is a felon. He’s violating a professional duty. He’s a menace to society and a disgrace to law enforcement.
8. “How can this possibly be an acceptable way to parent this child?” Nobody’s saying that beating in general is a good way to parent, or that this stands as proof that it is. My father never raised a hand to me. Would he have resorted to physical violence if he viewed it as the fastest, surest way to get me off the streets when violence and danger loomed? He was a man of action and good judgment, and I have no doubt that while he never hit me in anger, he would have knocked me cold if he thought that was the best and safest course. And apologized to me, possibly in tears, later….
9. “And how can we see this as an act of anything other than a beating in anger over her son’s defiance?” There is nothing unethical about a parent making a child understand that he or she disapproves of that child’s conduct, and showing anger is a legitimate tool for achieving that end. So is shaming. She embarrassed the hell out him. Good.
10. “Has anyone considered that this type of parenting may be the root of this child’s reasoning for acting out in violence?” Interesting to speculate on, but irrelevant to the issue at hand. She may have been the worst parent in the world, but she was, at that moment, doing what she felt was her best option to protect her child and make a vital point about behavior he should eschew in the future. Would Holly want the mother to pick that moment, of all moments, to reform?
11. “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.”
a. My grandmother used a strap on my dad, and he would no more engage in a riot than flap his arms and fly to Saturn. Holly’s post hoc ergo propter hoc argument is stretched like taffy.
b. Her son wasn’t doing anything rational, and I guarantee he had no idea how or why Freddie died, because at that point, and even now, because nobody was or is sure based on actual evidence.
c, The victim’s mother was a heroin addict and a negligent parent according to every account.
12. We “pick and choose” conduct all the time, rejecting the same acts in some circumstance that we judge appropriate in others. That’s what ethics is all about. Holly likes rules. Violence is never justifiable. It’s never necessary. It’s always wrong. Baloney. Violence is a tool like any other that can be used appropriately to advance ethical ends or unethical ones. When the ethical ends are important enough and violence is the only tool available, it may be justifiable. This was, moreover, symbolic violence. If she had clawed his eyes out or broken his leg, She would not be an ethics hero.
13. “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?” Oh, no. That doesn’t make you any less mistaken. Some of those agreeing with Holly have exited the orbit of reason entirely, like Stacy Patton, a college professor and author, who wrote this for the Washington Post. Money quote:
“Graham’s message to America is: I will teach my black son not to resist white supremacy so he can live.”
That’s right: the professor thinks Graham’s son should be encouraged to riot. She also compares Lynch’s discipline to a lynching. Black academics like this do as much damage to black youth as inept parents.
14. 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? Just because a conclusion is quick doesn’t mean it’s wrong. People have heard violent protesters, rioters and looters being excused, and empathized with, and thereby endorsed, by supposed responsible public commentators including the President of the United States, and quite correctly recoiled. They see an inner city mother of one of those “frustrated and angry African-American youths who are reacting in the context of generations of abuse and distrust” who is communicating ever-so-clearly on video, “Never mind that, you dummy. No kid of mine is going to be rioting, trashing cop cars and setting fires! Now get your ass home, or you’ll be sorry.” The mode of communication may be crude, but the message is absolutely right, and a lot more responsible than “we understand.”
15. “Violence begets more violence.” Except on those occasions when it stops more violence. This facile logic is what prompted the Mayor of Baltimore to allow her city to burn. For that moment in time, this beleaguered mother had a better understanding of how to protect a city than the city’s leaders did.