Amid Monday's Freddie Gray-related ugly conflict in the streets of Baltimore, TV found a winning and upbeat story line in Toya Graham, who publicly reprimanded her 16-year-old son after she saw him wearing a hoodie and a mask and throwing rocks at police.
As much as television gets accused of only looking for violence and negative stories, the truth is there's nothing the medium loves more with big news stories like this than finding and celebrating heroes.
When TV does it right, the audience is huge.
After recognizing her son in the Monday afternoon battle between police and what appeared to be a predominantly teenage crowd, Graham came after him and started dragging him home. The video of her slapping him about his head as she pulled the mask from his face and berated him for being on the street went viral with monsters like CBS News doing its best to drive it.
Scott Pelley's Tuesday night newscast featured an interview with Graham and she was back on "CBS This Morning" today. Her quote saying that her anger at her son was the result of her not wanting him "to be another Freddie Gray," was the soundbite of the day Tuesday.
But her appeal runs deeper than that quote. As she unmasked and took control of her adolescent son, she made viewers feel empowered. Finally, an adult authority figure was saying, "enough," without worrying how she looked or sounded on video – or whether she was being too strong in her response toward the boy.
She also made the frightening images of conflict seem a lot less scary by showing us the scared teenage face of one of the rock throwers.
Of course, the suggestion that more hands-on parenting alone could solve the centuries-old issues that underlie what's happening in Baltimore's streets is also the kind of easy answer TV likes. And that suggestion is made in the last question in the interview below.
Still, Graham is certainly one of the most positive figures to emerge from the conflict so far.
Here's some of her interview with CBS:
TOYA GRAHAM: “I could see the objects being thrown at the police, and I was, like, in a awe, like, oh my God, this is really happening right here with me. And low and behold, I turn around and I look in this crowd, and my son is actually coming across the street with this hoodie on and a mask. At that point, I just lost it, and he gave me eye contact, and at that point – 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 a Freddie Gray. But to stand up there and vandalize police officers, that’s not justice. I’m a single mom, and I have six children, and I just choose not to live like that no more, and I don't want that for him.”
CBS NEWS: “What were you thinking when you saw him? Were you shocked? Were you angry?”
TOYA GRAHAM: “I was shocked. I was angry. I was shocked because you never want to see your child out there doing that. There’s some days that I’ll shield him in the house just so he won’t go outside, and I know I can’t do that for the rest of my life. He’s 16 years old. He’s into the streets.”
CBS NEWS: “What was his reaction when he saw you, when you kind of pulled him out of the crowd? What was that ride home like?”
TOYA GRAHAM: “He said to me, ‘Ma, when I [saw] you, my instinct was to run.’ I’m a no tolerant mother. Everybody that knows me knows I don’t play that. He knew he was in trouble.”
CBS NEWS: “Do you think strong mothers can keep this kind of thing from happening?”
TOYA GRAHAM: “I think so. I think it wouldn’t have been as worse as it was. But once again, we don’t know where those mothers [were] at. A lot of mothers have to provide for their children. You can make that phone call, ‘get home, get home right now.’ At the end of the day, they’re going to make their own decision. As parents, we just have to follow through to make sure that’s where they’re supposed to be at. Is he the perfect boy? No he’s not! But he’s mine. I’m just grateful that I was able to get him home,e and we actually sit back and watched the news and everything. He has Facebook friends, and everybody making comments and saying you know, you shouldn't be mad at your mother, you should give her a hug, 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.”