'The Slap' Seen Round the World

Much has been made of the moment above. Was it maternal frustration? Much deserved comeuppance? Child abuse?

Onlookers interviewed by various reporters expressed many views. For some, including some police spokesmen, the mother who slapped and chased her child down that Baltimore street was a "hero." For others, the mother had gone too far above and beyond.

The same controversy raged when President Obama and others labeled youngsters like the one in the video, "thugs." Many agreed. Others felt the anger being so violently expressed was understandable, if not justified.

Among my own friends and family, the debate was surprisingly less heated. A bad sign. We're almost past the point of outrage.

There was a weary statement of regret that the looting and violence would undermine the peaceful protests. We also agreed that the youngsters caught on camera smashing car windows with something akin to pride had done as much damage to the cause as to those cars.

And then we went back to dinner. And... Hell's Kitchen.

But something haunted me, after, about that oft-rerun video. Not the mother swinging in anger. But the face of the boy she slapped. He did not seem angry. Or ashamed. Just... somewhat bewildered.

It took me back to another kid in a hoodie.


And I wondered... did the boy who'd been slapped and shamed so publicly truly feel, after all the shootings that have gone unpunished and all the protests that have gone unheeded, that we might well see this photo on the news sometime soon?


I do not advocate violence, as we all say, over and over again. But I am not a black teenage boy who may not live to become a man for so many reasons beyond his control.

Our sons are killed by policemen. Our sons are killed by other black men -- often ones they know or grew up with. Our sons are disproportionately locked behind bars where their souls die young. And far too often go to schools which do not give them the tools or enough hope to help them avoid any of the above.

So it must seem to them, as the list of dead black boys who look like kin grows longer and no one is held accountable, that taking a stand, or a street, or a car, or an armful of merch from a torched store, or a life -- your own or someone else's -- is the only way left to express the desperation you feel.

Is negative attention better than none at all? It must seem so. At least the press notices. And will stay around as long as there are fires and angry mobs.

But... for the rest of us there's... dinner. And Hell's Kitchen. And a vague tinge of guilt as we channel surf past black mothers rushing into the streets to save their sons.

And a few days from now, another of our sons will die as the others died. And every young black man in America knows he could be that one. And that the mother who chased her son down the street on national TV also knows that. And that she did not care who saw or how she would be judged, because she knew it. And loved her son.

Hero or no, she did what she felt she had to do. Her son may have thought much the same thing when he donned that hoodie and took to the streets that day. Or ease that mother's constant fear.

I don't like what he went out there to do. But he leaves the house every day afraid that that day might be his last.

And nothing I or anyone else can say can take that burden off those young shoulders. Or ease that mother's constant fear.

Photo credit: TRAYVON MARTIN (artwork by Cey'Doo BlueShine) via Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License