A black mother says her daughter was traumatized after her neighbor, a white man, called the police about the 9-year-old because he said he was ‘scared’ after seeing her watering grass to protect against an invasive species.
The Oct. 22 incident returned to public discourse after body camera footage and a recording of the 911 call were released by the Caldwell Police Department in New Jersey earlier this month.
During the 911 call, Gordon Lawshe, former co-chairman and treasurer of the Caldwell Republican Party, can be heard reporting the presence of the 9-year-old black girl to the dispatcher and mislabeling her as a grown woman.
“There’s a little black woman walking around, spraying stuff on the sidewalks and trees at Elizabeth and Florence,” Mr Lawshe can be heard calling the non-emergency line. “I don’t know what she’s doing, it scares me,” he says before adding the further details that she was “really tiny” and had a “balaclava”.
Police body camera footage shows a Caldwell Police Department officer responding to the call. As he approaches the girl, who is blurred in the video footage for privacy reasons, he asks her “what’s going on”. The 9-year-old explains how she sprays grass to protect against an invasive species of lantern flies.
In New Jersey, the state has launched a “Stomp It Out” campaign to encourage residents to kill the spotted plant bug which is known to suck sap from plants and trees and leave them dry.
Caldwell’s fourth-grade student Bobbi Wilson takes a keen interest in the state’s fight against the insect, which is native to China where it has more natural predators to control the species.
“She wanted to feel like she was doing something and that was the only thing she could feel powerful about, you know, and she’s saving a tree,” her mother, Monique Joseph, told Pix11 in an interview a couple of weeks ago. weeks after the trauma. incident.
After seeing a viral TikTok video that showed viewers using a solution of vinegar and water which is then sprayed on grass to kill invasive species, the child was quick to take to the streets to test it.
One of these days, Bobbi was suddenly disturbed when a neighbor – who, according to her mother, had lived on the same street as them for eight years – called the police.
“You don’t call the police for a 9-year-old. You call the police when there’s a danger. Bobbi wasn’t a danger to anyone,” Ms Joseph told News 12 New Jersey in an interview this week.
The video footage with the policeman quickly shows how pointless the call was and praises the young girl for her work in protecting her neighborhood’s ecosystem from predatory species.
Leaving the Caldwell area, the officer can be heard interacting with Mr. Lawshe. After the officer explained to the former New Jersey Republican Party Treasurer what the little girl had done with the spray bottle, Mr Lawshe joked: ‘How weird’, before the officer left.
Shortly after the incident, Ms Joseph and her eldest daughter, Hayden, spoke about the incident to Caldwell Town Council. They described how her neighbor unnecessarily “put her daughter in danger”.
“Racism, whether intentional or not, is still racism,” Ms Joseph said, noting how the immediate repercussions of the October 22 incident made her daughter fearful of going out the next day. “I’m not here to label anyone, only to share my perspective as a black woman, black mother, and black resident of this city.”
“I want this to be a teachable moment for our city about racial bias, diversity, equity and inclusion and how we can together ensure that the little black and brown children of this city can feel safe,” she said.
In his comments to City Council, Hayden pointed out that Mr Lawshe knew his family and could have raised them with his mother.
“No child should be scared in their own town, on their own street,” Hayden said. “I can confidently assure you guys that she will never forget that.”
Ms. Joseph and Mr. Lawshe have not spoken to each other since the Oct. 22 911 call, she said. But she tried to broker a mediated meeting between her and Mr Lawshe with Caldwell Police as the go-between, but he refused.
“He apologized on the pretext of telling me he was reporting a lost little girl,” Ms Joseph said, according to Progress.
After hearing the recording of the 911 call, she admits she felt it was not a missing child.
“He used trigger words that resulted in the deaths of too many black and brown children and even adults. ‘Black’, ‘I’m scared’, ‘She’s wearing a balaclava,'” Ms Joseph said, alluding to previous cases where black children were profiled and in some cases shot by police for their attire. clothing.
“I just wanted to have a conversation with him as a neighbor, as Bobbi’s mother, and as the woman who lives across the street from him,” she said. “He must understand what he did. Whether he is aware of it or not, he must understand the harm it has caused.
For his part, Mr. Lawshe has retained the services of a lawyer and maintains that the accusations arising from this telephone call constitute defamation.
“Since Mr. Lawshe was accused of being racist, he and his family have received threats against their person and their property,” Mr. Lawshe’s lawyer said, according to CNN. “Mr. Lawshe and his family have been libeled and will continue to be vilified until the insinuations, direct accusations and attacks against Mr. Lawshe and his family cease.
The viral incident, which sparked national reactions and a chorus of support for the scared black girl, led a Yale University assistant professor to track down Bobbi and her family so she could coordinate a private tour of the labs scientists from the famous institution.
Dr. Ijeoma Opara, founder of the university’s addiction and sexual health lab, took to social media to help find Bobbi after seeing coverage of her run-in with New Jersey police last month.
Shortly after that initial appeal was posted, Dr. Opara posted a photo on her personal Twitter account with the young girl by her side as she detailed her visit to Yale where she embarked on “a science-led tour by a black girl”.
“Twitter fam thanks for helping me find the family of the 9 year old girl from NJ who got called to the police by her neighbor for picking up lantern flies. I connected with them and told them invited to @yale for a science tour led by a black girl! HISTORY was MADE yesterday,” the Yale professor tweeted on Thursday.
A GoFundMe has been set up in the name of Ms. Joseph’s daughter by a family friend, with proceeds from online fundraising going to the family “primarily for educational programs, activities and tuition for the girls,” it read.