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Black New Jersey Mom Slams GOP Official Who Called 911 On Her Daughter For Catching Lanternflies

The girl was attempting to ward off lanternflies, an invasive species that experts have advised should be killed on site, by spraying trees and sidewalks.

screenshots of Monique Joseph and Hayden and Bobbi Wilson during Borough of Caldwell council meeting
Borough of Caldwell Council

Monique Joseph, the mother of a nine-year-old Black girl who became frightened after a former Republican official called the police while she was attempting to ward off lanternflies, tore into the official during a mayor and council meeting in Caldwell, New Jersey earlier this month.

Joseph's daughter, Bobbi Wilson, had recently learned about regional “see it, squish it” campaigns to help stop the spread of lanternflies, an invasive species that experts have advised should be killed on sight.

Bobbi Wilson was testing a homemade spray of dish soap and apple cider vinegar to kill the pests when neighbor Gordon Lawshe, a former GOP official, called authorities, saying that there was "a little Black woman" wearing a "hood" who was "walking, spraying stuff on the sidewalks and trees."

Joseph and her elder daughter, 13-year-old Hayden Wilson, spoke candidly about the incident during the public comments portion of the meeting.

You can hear what they said in the video below.

Joseph said:

“I am not here to label anyone, only to share my point of view as a Black woman, a Black mother, and a Black resident in this town, to bring awareness on racism and implicit bias that we experienced on the very street that we live on.” ...
[referring to the recording of Lawshe's 911 call] “And [he] included that she’s wearing a hoodie. My 9-year-old daughter Bobbi had a hoodie on her person but did not have this hoodie on her head."
"It is sickening and scary to hear my neighbor use triggering words that have resulted in the death of too many Black and brown children and adults at the hands of the police: Black, hoodie, ‘I’m scared.’"
"Those are triggered words.”

Joseph went on to say that "unintentional racism" is still racism and Lawshe’s “ability to do something like this was not a mistake," adding:

"It was intentional, and I’m here to talk about Mr. Lawshe’s intentionality. My neighbor’s words put my daughter in harm’s way."
"His words and actions were unconscionable, and the impact of the aftermath of this incident will not be kept secret. My 9-year-old daughter was afraid to go outside her front door the next day."
"She was afraid that her neighbor that she knows has a reason, unknown to her, to call the police on her.” ...
“I want this to be a teachable moment for our town on racial bias, diversity, equity, and inclusion in how we, together, can ensure that go[ing] forward, little Black and brown children in this town can feel safe in this community."

Hayden Wilson noted that her household was the only Black family on the street and Lawshe knew who they were.

She told meeting attendees that Bobbi—whose work attacking lanternflies had been detailed in an October issue of local newspaper The Progress—had been scarred by the experience.

“She was not only doing something amazing for our environment, she was doing something that made her feel like a hero."
“Our neighbor across the street, Mr. Gordon…decided it would be appropriate to call the police on my sister. He also claimed he was scared.”
“[Bobbi] sees all these other Black children and adults on the news being killed by police officers for doing nothing wrong."
“So, when this car rolled up beside her, she was immediately frightened because she did nothing wrong. No kid should…be scared in their own town on their own street.”

Many have condemned Lawshe's actions and come to the family's defense.

Caldwell Mayor John Kelley apologized to the family, and later toldThe Daily Beast that he was "clearly wrong" to initially think that racism was not a problem in the town. He said that "it is clear that a line was crossed" after he learned about the incident and reviewed the police report.

Greg Mascera, an attorney for Lawshe, insisted his client wasn’t racially profiling Wilson when he called the authorities, calling Joseph's "assertion that [her daughter is now] afraid of cops is absurd.”

The incident has started a discussion about adultification, a term used to define how Black children are viewed as older than they are. The National Institute of Health (NIH) notes that systemic racism "has forced Black children into social, emotional, and physical adult roles before they are adults, contributing to adultification."

Adultification is considered a form of dehumanization, "rob­bing black chil­dren of the very essence of what makes child­hood dis­tinct from all oth­er devel­op­men­tal peri­ods: inno­cence," according to studies that show that Black children are seen as older and more culpable than their White peers.