He gave me eye contact. And at that point, you know, not even thinking about cameras or anything like that. That’s my only son and at the end of the day I don’t want him to be another Freddie Gray,” Toya Graham said, referencing the 25-year-old man who died after mysteriously sustaining severe spinal injuries in police custody earlier in the month. His death has sparked protests throughout the city, with tensions boiling over Monday.
Graham told CBS News she launched into action after spotting her 16-year-old son Michael wearing a hoodie and mask amid the protesters.
“At that point, I just lost it,” said Graham. “I was shocked, I was angry, because you never want to see your child out there doing that.”
Graham, a single mom with six children, denounced the vandalism and violence against police officers. She said rioting in Baltimore is no way to go about getting justice for Freddie Gray and that she doesn’t want that life for her son.
Toya Graham lays into her son Michael after seeing him with the protesters. CBS NEWS
“There’s some days that I’ll shield him in the house just so he won’t go outside and I know that I can’t do that for the rest of my life,” said Graham. “I’m a no-tolerant mother. Everybody that knows me, know I don’t play that.”
It’s that reputation that made her son wince the second he saw her.
“He knew he was in trouble,” said Graham. “He said when ‘I seen you,’ he said, ‘ma, my instinct was to run.'”
Graham says after she got her son home they both watched news coverage of the demonstrations and riots on television. As images of her reaction started to go viral, Graham says comments started appearing on her son’s Facebook page, many in support of her.
“Friends and everybody making comments and saying you know, you shouldn’t be mad at your mother, you should give her a hug,” said Graham.
Graham hopes the incident will serve as a teachable moment for her son.
“And by him seeing everything what’s going on I just hope, I’m not sure, but I hope that he understands the seriousness of what was going on last night.”
The video has been widely circulated as people look for answers to the violence, and it even drew the attention of Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts.
“I wish I had more parents who took charge of their kids tonight,” he said, according to CBS Baltimore.
Graham told CBS News she thinks the situation wouldn’t have been as bad if there were more mothers out there monitoring their sons. But she acknowledged there are some circumstances that can prevent moms from from doing that.
“We don’t know where those mothers are at, a lot of mothers have to provide for their children,” said Graham. “You can talk blue in your face to your children, but at the end of the day they gonna make their own decisions. As parents we just have to follow through to make sure that’s where they supposed to be at.”
Commissioner Batts told reporters late Monday night that a bulk of the rioters who pelted officers with rocks and bricks, inciting a massive display of looting and vandalism across parts of West Baltimore were area high schoolers.
“These are Baltimore youthful residents, a number of them came right out of the local high schools there on the other side of Mondawmin and started engaging in this,” said Batts. “I think these were youth coming out of the high school and they thought it was cute to throw cinder blocks at the police department and address it that way.”
At least 20 police officers were injured in the violence and one person was critically hurt in a fire, according to authorities. Police made 235 arrests, including 34 juveniles.