When Michael Singleton's mom spotted him joining Baltimore protesters wielding a rock and wearing a mask on Monday, the world witnessed his punishment.
Toya Graham pulled at and slapped her son as news cameras rolled. Her actions show the division among people watching the chaos from outside Baltimore.
On one hand, Graham earned herself the hashtag #motheroftheyear on Twitter, and was hailed as a guiding voice for those fighting to end violence and tension in the city. On the other hand, some commentators see her story as a lightning rod for racism. Mic explains, "America wants a strong, 'angry black woman' keeping her 'thug' son in check."
In an interview on Wednesday, Anderson Cooper sat down with both Graham and Singleton to clear the air about the incident.
"I started focusing on these bricks being thrown at police officers, and I turned around, and I saw Michael," Graham told Cooper. "I was so angry with him that he had made a decision to do some harm to police officers."
Singleton explained that he was embarrassed by his actions, and explained why he went to the mall and picked up a brick in the first place.
"My friends were down there, my friends have been beaten by police, killed by police, so I felt I needed to go down there to show my respect," he told Cooper. "[When I saw my mom] I was like, 'Oh man. What is my mother doing down here?'"
[Graham] wasn't concerned that she might be embarrassing her son.
"Not at all," Toya Graham told CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360˚... "He was embarrassing himself by wearing that mask and that hoodie and doing what he was doing." ...
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.
The incident, which Cooper calls "tough love," has become a symbol for the tension in Baltimore over the past few days, as protesters and rioters continue to clash with police over the death of Freddie Gray and others.
Gray died on April 19, days after he sustained a severe spinal cord injury following an arrest. His funeral was held on Monday, and by the end of the night, the city was on fire.
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