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A 9-Year-Old Black Girl Was Catching Lanternflies. Neighbor Called The Police Said She “Scared”

Steffi CaoBuzzFeed News Reporter

The neighbor called 911 after spotting her outside testing an environmentally friendly spotted lanternfly solution she’d made, identifying her as “a little Black woman” with a “hood.”

A 9-year-old Black girl was afraid to leave the house after a neighbor called the police on her while she was catching spotted lanternflies, her mother said in a moving town council speech.

On the morning of Oct. 22, in Caldwell, New Jersey, fourth-grader Bobbi Wilson had found a recipe for an environmentally-safe lanternfly spray on TikTok, and wanted to try it out on the nearby trees she saw that were infested.

She’d been learning about the invasive species in class, her family said, and wrote a paper on their environmental impact. The influx of spotted lanternflies across the Northeast has become a viral topic, with many homemade solutions and government-recommended methods to help stop the spread of the insects, including the “see it, squish it” campaign.

While Wilson was testing the solution out on her street, neighbor Gordon Lawshe, who public records show is 71, spotted the child walking about and called the police, according to Wilson’s 13-year-old sister Hayden.

Monique Joseph, Wilson’s mother, recited the recording Caldwell police received from Lawshe’s 911 call at a town council meeting earlier this month alerting local officials to the treatment of her daughter in their majority-white town.

“There’s a little Black woman, walking, spraying stuff on the sidewalks and trees,” Joseph read aloud. “I don’t know what the hell she’s doing; it scares me though.” Lawshe also mentioned in his call that Wilson was wearing a “hood” and said she was a “real small woman... you can’t miss her.” The child is still under five feet tall, according to her family.

“Racism, intentional or not, is still racism,” the mother of two said. “To hear my neighbor using triggering words that have resulted in the deaths of too many Black and brown children and adults at the hands of the police. ‘Black,’ ‘hoodie,’ ‘I’m scared.’ Those are triggering words.”

The American police have a long history of brutalizing unarmed, young Black children after 911 calls, a symptom of systemic racism that has triggered social movements like the Black Lives Matter movement, “______ While Black” and discussion-spawning memes like Barbecue Becky. Tamir Rice was just 12 years old when, holding a toy gun, he was killed by police in a park to which they were dispatched following a 911 call. Thirteen-year-old Adam Toledo was shot and killed by a police officer after raising his hands in surrender. Ma’Khia Bryant was 16 years old when she called the police for help, and was then shot and killed by them. The Children’s National Hospital reported in 2020 that Black children were six times more likely to be shot to death by police than their white peers.

Hayden Wilson emphasized that when Lawshe called the police on Bobbi, she was not on his property, and that Lawshe knows her family. They have lived across the street from each other for almost eight years, according to local press.

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

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