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“Nobody’s Symbol, But Somebody’s Mother”: Toya Graham Simply Doing What Mothers Do

A few thoughts about Toya Graham, just in time for Mother’s Day.

You may not know her name, but you probably know what she did. You’ve probably seen the viral video of Graham, during last week’s unrest in Baltimore, using some rather pungent language and some open-handed smacks upside the head to pull her 16-year-old son out of the riot zone. She told CBS News he had gone there in defiance of her orders. When she saw him, dressed for mayhem in a black face mask, rock in hand, “I just lost it.”

In so doing, Graham, a single mother of six, has inadvertently become enmeshed in the ongoing shouting match between left and right. She has become a symbol — though neither side can agree on what she is a symbol of.

On the right, where many observers seem just a little too giddy over the image of a black boy being smacked, Fox “News” contributor Ben Stein called her “Rosa Parks for 2015.” It was an inane observation that minimized the legacy of Rosa Parks, but it was perfectly in line with the conservative view that says our most pressing concern in Baltimore’s unrest is “behavior” — i.e., the need to rein in lawless Negroes smashing windows and setting fires in the city.

Fact is, behavior is, indeed, our most pressing concern: but it’s the behavior of police in dealing with African-American citizens. Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man whom police arrested for carrying an illegal knife — a charge that is hotly disputed — somehow wound up with a partially severed spine while in their custody and died. Death seems to come with jarring frequency to unarmed black men who interact with police, something that ought to trouble us all.

The fact that some knuckleheaded black kids used the protest over Gray’s death as a pretext to riot — in other words, to behave as knuckleheaded white kids do after sports victories, sports defeats, and during last year’s pumpkin festival in Keene, NH — makes that no less true.

On the left, meantime, there is a tad too much dewy-eyed hand wringing over Graham’s resorting to violence to drag her son off the street. While conceding that her actions were “understandable and maybe even reasonable” under the circumstances, Eliyahu Federman, a columnist for USA Today, nevertheless wants you to know her parenting style was not “ideal” — whatever that means.

“Shouting and insulting teens just doesn’t work long term,” he writes. “You are more likely to positively modify teen misbehavior by calmly and maturely discussing the consequences of the misbehavior.” One struggles to imagine how a calm and mature discussion with a willful teenager might have played out at ground zero of an urban riot.

Look: that video — the hitting, the cursing — is not a pretty picture. Such tactics would never be endorsed by Parents magazine. On the other hand, the largely white and middle-class readership of that magazine likely does not live where Graham does, nor struggle with the challenges and fears she faces.

Every pundit, yours truly included, has the sometimes-regrettable habit of reducing people in the news to symbols of our own social and political concerns. But if we want to understand what she did, it might help to concede that Graham is nobody’s symbol, but somebody’s mother. As she said, she “lost it” because she feared her son might end up like Freddie Gray, another tragic police “oops.”

For most of us, that is a distant and unimaginable fear. But for some of us, it is a fear all too close and all too imaginable, a night terror that gnaws at sleep. Understand this, and that video becomes less of a mystery. When she saw her son in danger, Toya Graham waded in to save him from it — at all costs and by any means necessary.

Is that not what mothers do?

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, May 6, 2015

May 7, 2015 Posted by | Baltimore Riots, Black Men, Police Violence | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Abandon Your Bipartisan Fantasies: The Baltimore Uprising Won’t Make GOP Get Serious About Urban Reform

Elite pundits like Richard Cohen may expect zombie Richard Nixon to soon sweep the nation with a new campaign of law and order, but for those of us who see something more in America’s future than an endless rehash of the 1960s, the political ramifications of the uprising in Baltimore are still unclear.

Are we destined to live through another round of backlash politics, largely driven by white and affluent voters’ fears? Or might the dysfunction and injustice that was so explosively revealed in Baltimore — and Ferguson before it — kick-off a rare bout of genuinely useful bipartisan cooperation?

Cynics will likely find these questions gratingly naive, but you don’t have to be a pollyanna to see reasons for optimism. After all, ending mass incarceration and reforming the criminal justice system were making their way into the political mainstream before anyone had heard the name Freddie Gray. And even conservative politicians like Sen. Rand Paul, a man some people (wrongly) consider a serious threat to be the next president, have been talking about these issues frequently and at length.

Well, I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but although I think a return of “tough on crime” politics is unlikely, it still appears to me that a serious response to urban poverty and mass incarceration won’t be coming out of Washington any time soon. This useful Tuesday article from the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent helps explain why, but the answer can be boiled down to two words: demographics and location.

If you want to understand why Republicans in D.C. will ensure this problem goes unaddressed, you must start, as always, with the House of Representatives, where the GOP’s grip on power is white-knuckle tight. According to Sargent (via David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report) one way to think of the Republicans’ dominant position in Congress is to look at one of the usual explanations — the fact that Democratic voters are inefficiently packed into a smaller number of overwhelmingly Dem-friendly districts — from a new angle.

Viewed through the lens of land mass rather than population, Sargent reports, Republicans control nearly 86 percent of the United States, despite holding “only” 57 percent of the seats in the House. Democrats, on the other hand, lay claim to 43 percent of House seats yet only control around 14 percent of actual American land. As Wasserman explains to Sargent, what that means, in practice, is something you probably intuitively got already — in the House, the coalition that makes up the Democratic Party is very urban; and the Republican one, conversely, is not.

Put simply, the GOPers in the House whose constituents look like (or care about) the folks in Baltimore, Ferguson and so forth are few and far between. Most Republican members of Congress’s “lower” chamber represent people in rural or suburban areas. Except as a place they fear and prefer kept at a distance, these voters are not thinking about the American city. And even if they are, the fact that they’re Republicans will tell you all you need to know about whether they’d be open to a plan that involved increased social investment, as any bipartisan agreement no doubt would.

If you’re someone who believes politics is driven more by big, indifferent forces — like the economy or geography or demographics — rather than personal relationships, that would seem to be the end of the discussion. Politicians want above all else to be reelected, and they respond to incentives accordingly. It’s hard to see why a far-right representative of rural Kansas would be particularly interested in joining up with Nancy Pelosi to try to make it suck a little less to be an African-American kid in Jersey City. Someone so inclined probably wouldn’t even make it through their district’s GOP primary.

Still, as useful as that political science 101 framing can be in most cases, it is not all-seeing. At least that’s what someone trying to make a counter-argument would say, before pointing to the Senate. In the “upper” chamber, of course, Republican politicians have to worry about representing all of their state’s citizens. So you might expect a GOPer from Ohio (home of Columbus, Cincinnati and Cleveland) or Virginia (which shares a border with Baltimore’s Maryland to its north) to be more interested in reform. And that goes double for the next Republican presidential nominee, who will need to win some of those big, purple states in 2016.

Moreover, while politicians are often astonishingly simple-minded creatures, the same is not always true for voters. There are plenty of suburban moderates, for example, who don’t want to send a Democrat to Washington to represent their district but don’t want to have a Republican “eat-the-poor” ogre as president, either. Such voters shouldn’t be mistaken for true believers in social justice, mind you — but the desire to assuage a nagging sense of guilt by supporting a “compassionate” conservative can be a powerful thing. Pure self-interest, then, would lead a smart GOP presidential contender to support at least some elements of urban investment and reform.

But here’s the reason why I don’t expect that alternative scenario to play out in the real world, and why I suspect we won’t see a response to Baltimore from Washington — certainly not a bipartisan one — any time soon: Most of these elements were present during the 2012 election, but they had basically no influence on the behavior of House Republicans. Then-candidate Mitt Romney sure could have used some leeway to wander a bit from conservative orthodoxy and prove he was no real-life Mr. Potter. He got an Ayn Rand fanboy as his teammate instead.

It doesn’t feel like that was quite so long ago but, in political terms, America was a different place. This was before the lily-white Republican base had to endure two full terms of a relatively liberal African-American president, and before that same base had begun spending much of its time defending cops and describing poor communities of color as mired in a “tailspin of culture” and “government dependence.” This was when Darren Wilson was just another run-of-the-mill, mildly thuggish cop; and before “black lives matter” became a national slogan.

If the chances of congressional Republicans supporting a bipartisan legislative response to inequality were slim a few years ago, the likelihood of their doing so now, in the face of civil unrest, has to be right around zilch.

 

By: Elias Isquith, Salon, May 6, 2015

May 7, 2015 Posted by | Baltimore Riots, Bipartisanship, Congress | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Official’s Under Pressure To Confront The Issues”: Did Violence In Baltimore Lead To Cops Being Prosecuted For Freddie Gray’s Death?

This is just extraordinary news out of Baltimore:

The six Baltimore police officers involved in the arrest of Freddie Gray – who died last month after being injured in police custody – have been charged criminally, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced Friday.

Officer Caesar Goodson Jr., 45, who was the driver of a police van that carried Gray through the streets of Baltimore, was charged with second-degree murder, assault, manslaughter, misconduct and other charges.

Officer William Porter, 25, and Lt. Brian Rice, 41, were charged with involuntary manslaughter.

Sgt. Alicia White, 30, was charged with manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter. Officer Edward Nero, 29, and Officer Garrett Miller, 26, were charged with assault and misconduct.

We’re going to learn more in the coming days about what the prosecutors say happened, what the officers say happened, and what evidence there is for each story. But police officers getting charged with murder and manslaughter is an extremely rare occurrence, and it forces us to ask a difficult question:

Would this have happened if the protests in Baltimore hadn’t turned violent? Is that what it takes to get accountability when someone dies at the hands of police?

Before I go any farther, let me make it clear that I’m not arguing in favor of rioting. The destruction that occurred Monday night in Baltimore had real victims, including not only the store owners whose businesses were damaged but also the residents of the affected neighborhoods. But it’s hard to argue that it didn’t have an impact.

We have no way of knowing whether Mosby would have pursued these charges had no one outside of Freddie Gray’s friends and family ever heard of him. But it would be foolish to deny that she was under enormous pressure to make a case against the officers involved.

You may have seen the video from Tuesday of a woman named Danielle Williams, who said to MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts:

“When we were out here protesting all last week for six days straight peacefully, there were no news cameras, there were no helicopters, there was no riot gear, and nobody heard us. So now that we’ve burned down buildings and set businesses on fire and looted buildings, now all of the sudden everybody wants to hear us.”

She was absolutely right. The violence led to a huge increase in media attention, and even if much of that coverage was sensationalistic, there was also a lot of attention paid to the substantive issues involved. Those included the Baltimore police’s record in dealing with the public generally, and in particular the use of “rough rides” as a method of abusing suspects, which is a likely explanation for how Freddie Gray came to have his spine broken in the back of a police ban.

All that national attention put every public official under pressure to not only bring calm but also to confront the issues that have the people of Baltimore so angry: The police commissioner, the mayor, the governor, and yes, the state’s attorney. While every official would like to believe that he or she would make all the same decisions regardless of whether there are people chanting in the streets and news cameras parked outside their office, they can’t possibly be immune.

There are some interesting details that emerged from Mosby’s press conference, including her statement that Gray’s arrest was unlawful in the first place; while it had been reported that Gray was arrested for possessing a switchblade, Mosby said that the knife Gray had in his pocket was not a switchblade and was perfectly legal. We’ll no doubt be learning more. But what matters is that in this case, unlike so many others (Gray wasn’t the first suspect in Baltimore who went into a police van and came out with a fatal spinal injury), there’s going to be a prosecution.

Perhaps this prosecution — and whatever reforms might happen in the near future — would have occurred if the protests had stayed peaceful. There’s no way to know for sure. But you don’t have to approve of rioting to acknowledge that in this case it may well have led to results.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, May 1, 2015

May 3, 2015 Posted by | Baltimore Police Dept, Baltimore Riots, National Media | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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