One story emerging from the riots triggered in Baltimore by the funeral of 25-year-old black man Freddie Gray (who died in police custody in mysterious circumstances) concerns an unknown middle-aged woman who was captured on video smacking the head of a young man. It is widely reported that the woman is the mother of the man she is smacking.

It is also reported that the woman saw the young man on TV throwing rocks at cops. She then found him on the streets and began hitting him on the head in public. Her actions are almost universally praised as an example of good parenting. Some commentators are even calling her "Mom of the Year."

The Baltimore police commissioner, Anthony Batts, who is black, had this to say about the woman during a press conference:

"I wish there were more parents out there who took charge of their kids tonight... Take control of your kids. This is our city, let’s make a difference."

And how about taking control of your cops? But we will not get into that in this post. What I want to point out is, along with lauding the mother, the commissioner also said that she smacked the young man on the head "because she was so embarrassed" by his actions.

That is certainly one way of reading the incident—a reading that is consistent with the commissioner's bad position in the crisis. Another reading from a less compromised position would be: This is a mother who is trying to keep her son alive. I know this feeling: I'm a father who worries about keeping my own black kids alive. The smacking is not an act of moral outrage but an act of desperation; she rightly fears that her society places a very low value on men who look like her son. She does not want to end up like the parents of Freddie Gray or Michael Brown.

The New York Times reported earlier this month that black neighborhoods in cities across of America are missing lots of black men. Where did they go? Either to prison or the grave: "Incarceration and early deaths are the overwhelming drivers of the gap."

What is a parent to do when faced with these hard facts? Calmly talk to his/her black son, who is well aware of his limited prospects and the low value of his life? No. You have to get real and turn to anger, turn to the pain.

You only live once.