A Parent’s Duty, in Defense of the Baltimore Mom
Today is Mothers Day, the nation wide celebration of mothers. What better time to discuss the Baltimore Mom and the obligations of parenthood? Was for example, the mother right to go upside her son’s head during the recent Maryland disturbances? And what are the obligations of a parent to his or her child and society at large?
The questions are raised not only by the situation in Baltimore but by the significant challenges facing children and families, e.g., the dearth of fathers involved in the lives of their children, the absence of meaningful parenting, homelessness, food insecurity and the negative impact of cultural influences like music, fashion and social media.
Some have condemned the Baltimore Mom, many of whom are black. In an article entitled “Why is America Celebrating the Beating of a Black Child” one commentator concluded that the message sent to America by the Baltimore Mom was “to teach her black son not to resist white supremacy so that he can live.” She further concluded that “praising the mother distracts from the hard truth, it doesn’t matter how black children behave … they risks being killed and blamed for their own deaths because black youths are rarely viewed as innocent or worthy of protection.” www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/04/29/why-is-america-celebrating.
Others have argued that the corporal punishment of black children by black parents reflects the sad legacy of slavery and the beatings endured by our ancestors and/or bemoaned what they perceive as a double standard that endorses violence against young black men.
We respect the diversity of opinion. We even agree with some of the larger points. However, for better or worse, homo-sapiens, including those of African descent, have physically disciplined their children well before the American slave experience. Not every problem can be laid at the feet of slavery. And we fundamentally disagree with the notion that the conduct of black youth is irrelevant, racism notwithstanding.
Absent the bias of hindsight or the filter of collateral social issues like corporal punishment, political perspectives, racism or the legacy of slavery, the issues are these:
1. Given the facts which existed at the time, did the Baltimore Mom comply with her fiduciary duty to her son? More basically, did she do the right thing at the right time?
2. Does the mother’s behavior in a time of crisis provide a template, either negative or positive for other parents?
The duty of a parent to a child is governed by the principal of fiduciary duty. A fiduciary duty obligates the fiduciary to always act in the best interest of the party to whom the duty is owed, even if doing so is contrary to the best interest of the fiduciary. Nor does it matter that beneficiary requests, appreciates, desires or opposes the benefit. The duty still holds. See https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/fiduciary_duty. The relevant facts by which to apply this rule are as follows.
In response to the death of Freddie Gray some Baltimore residents engaged in a public disturbance otherwise known as a riot. As with any riot, there existed a breakdown of social order consisting of arson, looting, criminal damage to property, theft, disorderly conduct, assault, battery and any number of other criminal, dangerous and deadly activities.
In the midst of this melee was the mother’s son who according to some reports held a brick which he intended to throw at a police car. If so, any officer would have been legally permitted to shoot this young man dead; to literally blow his brains out. He also faced the risk of harm from other participants.
Time was therefore of the essence. A measured, give and take discussion regarding the dangers of rioting was not an option. Instead, the immediate removal of the child from harms way was the only order of the day.
The mother recognized her son through his disguise and responded with a few choice words (probably “take your dumb ass home”) and some open-handed strikes to his upper torso. These were neither vicious nor harmful blows. The young man suffered no visible injuries and more importantly, the approach worked. He and his mother immediately removed themselves from the scene.
We do not advocate violence and realize the downside of corporal punishment. However, neither are we naïve. The world is complicated, emergencies routinely occur and some children simply don’t respond to reason. At times, a firm hand is needed to protect the child from himself if no one else.
Given the totality of the circumstances, this is no more the beating of a black child than the riots were peaceful demonstrations. And the mothers conduct is no more child abuse than Mr. Gray was protected and served by the police.
We are therefore of the opinion that given the circumstance the Baltimore Mom complied in full with her fiduciary duty to her child. And the totality of her conduct, i.e., her awareness of her son’s absence from the home, her determination to locate her child, her recognition of her son even through his disguise and her reasonable yet decisive action to remove him from harm’s way provides a model for others to emulate. A reasonable argument can be made that the mother’s actions saved her son from possible arrest, bodily injury, even death.
In conclusion, corporal punishment may well be distasteful. It may constitute child abuse, reveal a double standard, reflect white dominance or signal the lingering impact of slavery. Nonetheless, if we fail to discipline our children, we abdicate said responsibility to the criminal justice system and/or the streets which will not hesitate to do so violently and maliciously.
The salute of the Baltimore Mom is not an example of America celebrating the beating of a black child. It is instead the country recognizing the valor and common sense of a mother doing what she had to do to protect her child.
The question remains, where were the other Baltimore parents?
Leo Barron Hicks, Founder and CEO
Blackacre Policy Forum