Local Republican Calls Cops on 9-Year-Old Black Girl Catching Lanternflies

November 9, 2022 at 10:49 PM

Borough of Caldwell Council Meeting
Borough of Caldwell Council Meeting

An angry New Jersey mother fired off a heated speech on racism during a local board meeting last week after she says her Black daughter was racially profiled by a former council member, who freaked out simply because she was killing invasive insects.

Now, the family has demanded the town of Caldwell have a conversation about racial equity to ensure other children of color will feel safe when they step outside their homes.

“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,” Monique Joseph said as she stepped up to the dais during the public comments portion of a Caldwell Borough Council meeting on Nov. 1. “To bring awareness on racism and implicit bias that we experienced on the very street that we live on.”

Joseph described how her neighbor, Gordon Lawshe, called the police on her 9-year-old daughter Bobbi Wilson on Oct. 22 while Bobbi was outside trying to kill spotted lanternflies. The insect is known to be a danger to trees and other plants—so much so that scientists have recommended a myriad of ways for the public to kill them.

Joseph said she received a recording of Lawshe’s 911 call from the Caldwell Police Department.

“‘There’s a little Black woman walking, spraying stuff on the sidewalks and trees. I don’t know what the hell she’s doing; it scares me though,’” Lawshe told police, according to Joseph.

Americans See Innocent Black Kids as Guilty Adults

“And [he] included that she’s wearing a hoodie,” she told the board meeting. “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.”

While she called unintentional racism “still racism,” she said Lawshe’s “ability to do something like this was not a mistake. 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.”

Lawshe is a former Caldwell councilman, reported. According to local outlet The Progress, he served as chair of the Caldwell Republican Party at least until 2021.

Lawshe’s attorney, Greg Mascera, confirmed to The Daily Beast on Wednesday that his client made a call to the police but declined to comment further.

Joseph said she was not trying to make a political point by calling out Lawshe, but she said she wanted to ask his party, “Do you condone his behavior? I would like to know your point of view. And I want to close by repeating my opening statement: Racism—intentional or not—is racism. That’s the dialogue I would like to have.”

The Caldwell Republican Party did not immediately return The Daily Beast’s request for comment Wednesday.

Joseph commended the police’s response to the incident, but didn’t specify what happened when officers arrived at the scene.

“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,” she said.

Bobbi and her older sister, Hayden Wilson, also stepped up to the dais, with Hayden telling attendees that Bobbi—who “is still under five-foot tall”—researched safe methods to get rid of spotted lanternflies using apple cider vinegar, water, and dish soap after learning about the invasive bugs at school.

In fact, an October issue of The Progress detailed Bobbi’s work attacking lanternflies.

“She was not only doing something amazing for our environment, she was doing something that made her feel like a hero,” Hayden said. “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.”

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

“[Bobbi] sees all these other Black children and adults on the news being killed by police officers for doing nothing wrong,” Hayden said. “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.”

Caldwell Mayor John Kelley apologized to the family.

“[Racism is] not something that’s part of Caldwell. It’s just not,” he said. “It saddens me, and I’m glad you shared this with us, with the public. But I do apologize for what you and your daughter went through.”

A Caldwell councilmember also thanked the family for “stepping up” and vowed that they had support from the town’s governing body.

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