Neighbor Calls Police on 9-Year-Old Black Girl Who Was Spraying Spotted Lanternflies

"Racism, intentional or not, is still racism," the girl's mother, Monique Joseph, told community leaders during a city council meeting

monique joseph

The mother of a 9-year-old Black girl alleges her daughter was racially profiled after their White neighbor called the police last month while her daughter was trying to kill spotted lanternflies, an invasive species that imperil trees.

On Oct. 22, Monique Joseph said at a city council meeting that her daughter was searching for the insects when Gordon Lawshe, her neighbor who lives across the street, called 911, reported

"There's a little Black woman, walking, spraying stuff on the sidewalks and trees on Elizabeth and Florence. I don't know what the hell she's doing, scares me though," the neighbor told police on a 911 call obtained by The Daily Beast. The caller added that she's a "real small woman."

The "small woman" was actually 9-year-old Bobbi Wilson, who regularly sprayed Spotted Lanternflies, an invasive species, in order to protect the trees in her Caldwell, N.J., neighborhood. In fact, her effort to slay the insects was featured in an article in her community newspaper, The Progress.

On Nov. 1, at the Caldwell Borough Council meeting, Joseph described the incident during the council's public comments portion of the meeting, reported.

"Racism, intentional or not, is still racism," Joseph told borough leaders during the meeting.

"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," Joseph said, The Daily Beast reported.

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The police invited the mother and daughter to West Caldwell Police Department, where the pair were given a tour and a chance to discuss race relations, The Progress reported. PEOPLE's call to the department was not immediately returned.

"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," Joseph said.

She requested a meeting with her neighbor, who has not responded to the request. But his attorney told The Daily Beast that Lawshe was not engaging in racial profiling.

The lawyer, Greg Mascera, told The Daily Beast that Joseph's claim that her daughter is now afraid of police is "absurd," and said it "makes real problems not be taken seriously." reported that Caldwell Mayor John Kelley apologized for the incident.

"I'm glad you shared this with us, with the public," he told her at the council meeting. He later told The Daily Beast that he had been wrong to think there wasn't a racism problem in Caldwell.

"After reflecting on the story and learning more from the police report, it is clear that a line was crossed. My heart goes out to Monique and her two girls."

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