(CNN) — The Baltimore mother who slapped her son several times and pulled him out of a protest told CNN on Wednesday she wasn’t concerned that she might be embarrassing her son.
“Not at all,” Toya Graham told CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360˚” in an interview that aired Wednesday night. “He was embarrassing himself by wearing that mask and that hoodie and doing what he was doing.”
The video of Graham yanking her son, Michael Singleton, and slapping him with a right hand as CNN affiliate WMAR recorded has led to the Internet calling Graham #motheroftheyear. Many people have praised the unemployed, single mother of six for going to the Mondawmin Mall and getting her son away from the escalating violence.
Graham told Cooper that she saw her son with a brick in his hand, and she lost control of her emotions and told him to drop it.
“I did (get emotional). You know, once he threw that rock down I said, ‘You weren’t brought up like this,’ ” Graham said.
He’s not a perfect child, but he’s also not a thug, she said.
The 16-year-old boy said he understood that his mother was there looking out for him.
“She didn’t want me to get in trouble (with the) law. She didn’t want me to be like another Freddie Gray,” he said, referring to the 25-year-old man who died of a severe spinal injury after being arrested by Baltimore police.
Gray’s death has sparked daily protests over police brutality. There have also been riots and looting that prompted the city to put a curfew into effect.
He had a brick in hand
Graham said her son told her the night before the violence at the mall that something was up. She told him then and the next morning not to go. He swore to her he wouldn’t.
Her motherly sense kicked in when she heard school had closed early and the mall was shutting down, too.
She went to the mall and focused on the teens who were tossing rocks and bricks. There he was, in sweatpants she recognized. They made eye contact.
He had a brick in his hand, and that set her off.
“I was so angry with him that he had made a decision to do some harm to the police officers,” she said.
She yelled at him to put the brick down.
Singleton said he had seen her, but it didn’t make sense that his mother would be there. But when he heard her voice, he realized it really was his mom — and he was in big trouble.
Then the camera captured her memorable smackdown.
“It was just World War III from right there,” he said, showing some humor about the incident.
Graham noticed the TV crew but didn’t think anything of it. And she didn’t care.
“I wasn’t there to be recorded. I was there to get my child,” she said.
Tameka Brown, one of Graham’s five daughters, told CNN on Tuesday it wasn’t that hard for her mom to spot her 16-year-old half-brother.
“She knows her son and picked him out. Even with the mask on, she knew,” Brown said.
Brown said her mother is always looking out for her children.
“She has always been tough and knows where we are at,” Brown said.
Graham said she tries to steer her son away from potential trouble and troublemakers.
“As long as I have breath in my body I will always try to do right by Michael and show him what’s going on out in society doesn’t have to be you,” she told CNN.
Her son said that once they got home from the mall he understood why she pulled him out of the crowd.
“I was embarrassed a little bit, until she just started talking to me when we got home,” he said. “(She was) just telling me she did it because she cared about me. And it wasn’t to embarrass me, but because she cared.”