A former city council member of a New Jersey town and local Republican Party leader allegedly called the police on a nine-year-old Black girl when he saw her catching spotted lanternflies—an invasive species killing trees in the area—while wearing a hoodie, the girl’s mother, Monique Joseph, said at a local board meeting last week.
According to Joseph, Gordon Lawshe—the former council member representing Caldwell, New Jersey, who’s also her neighbor—told police, “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.” Joseph’s daughter is, again, nine years old. The allegation speaks to the widespread crisis of young Black girls being adultified, placing them at greater risk of police violence, sexual violence, and harsher disciplinary action in schools that feeds the school-to-prison pipeline.
“And [he] included that she’s wearing a hoodie. My nine-year-old daughter Bobbi [Wilson] 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.”
A lawyer for Lawshe confirmed to the Daily Beast that Lawshe, who formerly served as chair of the Caldwell Republican Party until 2021, had made a call to the police, but declined to comment further.
Joseph said regardless of Lawshe’s intentions, the incident was “still racism,” and “this was not a mistake.” “I’m here to talk about Mr. Lawshe’s intentionality,” Joseph continued. “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 nine-year-old daughter was afraid to go outside her front door the next day.”
Bobbi Wilson’s older sister Hayden also testified, specifying that her younger sister had researched safe methods to eliminate lanternflies that she was testing in her front yard when Lawshe called the police. An October issue of The Progress quite literally spotlights Bobbi’s work to combat the environmentally hazardous invasive species in the community. “She was not only doing something amazing for our environment, but she was also doing something that made her feel like a hero,” Hayden said. “Our neighbor across the street…decided it would be appropriate to call the police on my sister.”
According to Hayden, they’re the only Black family on the street, and her nine-year-old sister feared for her life because of Lawshe’s actions. “[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.”
Thankfully, the incident didn’t end in tragedy as it could have. Joseph testified that the police responded well to the situation. However, she didn’t offer details and said she spoke before the council to start a conversation about how the town can “ensure that go[ing] forward, little Black and brown children in this town can feel safe in this community.” The mayor, John Kelley, thanked Joseph for sharing her and her daughter’s experience and apologized for the incident.
Joseph and her older daughter pointed out that the situation could have cost a young Black girl her life, all for trying to do something environmentally conscious and good for her community. That Lawshe once held a leadership position in the town speaks to how dangerous it can be for Black people to live in their own neighborhoods.
Of course, there’s a long, terrifying history of neighbors calling 9-1-1 on Black girls for reasons like selling water bottles. In 2015, police assaulted a young Black girl outside a public pool in Texas after someone called 9-1-1 on her pool party. Bobbi Wilson’s fears when police showed up at her door weren’t unfounded, and no apology from the city can undo the trauma that’s been inflicted on this child.