A Baltimore woman is being called “mother of year” after she was caught on a now-viral video berating her son and dragging him off the streets for participating in the riots over the death of Freddie Gray. The city police commissioner praised her actions, saying “I wish I had more parents who took charge of their kids tonight” and the cover of Wednesday’s New York Post declares “Send in the moms” above her photo. But Collette Flanagan, who founded Mothers Against Police Brutality after her son was killed by Dallas police in 2013, said the attention is misguided.
“I think she plays right into the hands of people who want to sweep this under the rug,” Flanagan told ThinkProgress. “I think she has sent the wrong message to her son, who will probably never ever protest again because that experience with your own mother beating and berating you on TV…. We need these young people to protest. It’s their lives that are in peril. So I think this mother is misguided and I think that perhaps her fear for her child overtook her better judgment.”
The mom in the video — Toya Graham, a single mother of six — identified herself on Tuesday, telling CBS News she didn’t want her only son to “be a Freddie Gray.”
While Flanagan said she understood that Graham wanted to protect her child, she said all of the media attention on the “hero mom” who intervened in the protests is misdirected.
After her son’s death — an event for which she still does not have answers from law enforcement — Flanagan started Mothers Against Police Brutality to unite women attempting to hold police departments accountable for their actions. The group has attended demonstrations across the country to spread its message. And Flanagan said the recent wave of police protests in Ferguson, New York and Baltimore are all encouraging.
“I think protesting is great because when people protest, it brings awareness, and when awareness is there, there is an opportunity to educate so people can see that we’re angry,” she said. “We’re tired of losing our children. We’re tired of policemen having impunity. And even when we have tape, like with Eric Garner, this system has sent a message loud and clear to black and brown communities that they will not indict white policemen for killing our children unequivocally.”
While she doesn’t condone the looting that was highlighted by the media in Baltimore Monday night, she said she understands where the violent protesters are coming from. The city has recently been ravaged economically and in Gray’s neighborhood, more than half of the people between the ages of 16 and 64 are out of work and the unemployment rate is double that for the city. For many young people, Gray was not the first friend or neighbor hurt in the hands of law enforcement, and trust in police has eroded.
“It’s the voices of the people who feel like they don’t have a voice,” Flanagan said. “When you look at most of these people that are rioting, these are children that have witnessed things that you’ve probably never witnessed, and that is knowing someone that has been killed by a policeman. An uncle, a cousin, a friend, a nephew, a brother or even their fathers being killed and knowing that nothing is going to be done about it. These children are scared. And when your local politicians turn a blind eye and try to tell you unequivocally that your life isn’t worth anything, this is the type of reaction that happens.”
But instead of focusing anger on the police misconduct that deserves the attention, onlookers target the few individuals who turn violent when protesting, she said. The media dedicates live coverage to showing black men looting and rioting, while hiding the white people who are also involved, she said.
“I’m mostly troubled when I think about how outraged people are about the looting and that a CVS was broken into,” she said. “CVS has what, $7.3 billion in assets. They can replace the store tomorrow. We can’t replace Freddie Gray. Where is the outrage with that?”
Like in Ferguson and Staten Island, a Dallas grand jury let the police officer responsible off the hook for Flanagan’s son’s death. If any one reform comes out of Baltimore, Flanagan said she hopes police investigations can be taken out of the control of local law enforcement so that parents across the country can get answers to what happened to their children who died because of police action.
“We cant just forget the babies that are in their graves because the system failed the families,” she said. “You can’t just pick up and say ‘oh, we have new policies and procedures.’ In order for justice to be served, we have to go back and get justice for those families.”