NJ cops get called on 9-year-old Black girl killing lanternflies, mom says
CALDWELL — The mother of a 9-year-old girl told the town's council that a neighbor called police on her daughter as she sprayed for spotted lanternflies while wearing a hoodie.
During the meeting on Nov. 1, Monique Joseph said neighbor Gordon Lawshe called police about a "little Black woman" spraying the sidewalk. The person was actually her daughter, who is under 5 feet tall.
"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 claimed Lawshe told police. She said Lawshe said the person was wearing a hoodie but the hood was not up.
"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," Joseph said, adding that their use was "unconscionable."
She said that use of those words was intentional and said the situation could have had a worse outcome. She commended the response of the Caldwell police officer. Joseph said her daughter was afraid to go outside the next day.
"It is unfortunate that she understands exactly what could have happened to her if we lived somewhere else in this country," Joseph said.
A teachable moment?
She hopes that this incident can become a teachable moment about racial bias, diversity, equity and inclusion and that going forward, “little Black and brown children in this town can feel safe in this community.”
Joseph said that while her intentions are not political she is aware Lawshe is a leader and treasurer of the Caldwell Republican Committee. Lawshe is the membership director for the Caldwell Community Center, according to his LinkedIn page.
"I am asking his party to tell me do you condone this behavior? I would like to know your point of view,” Joseph said. "I want to repeat my opening statement. Racism, intentional or not, is racism. That's the dialogue I would like to have."
Mayor John Kelley, who attended the meeting remotely, said he was sorry that Joseph and her daughter went through that experience.
"It's not something that is part of Caldwell. It's just not. It saddens me and I'm glad you shared this with us, with the public," Kelley said.
TikTok showed a formula for a lanternfly spray
Joseph said that her daughter's work at trying to help eliminate the threat of the destructive spotted lanternfly received coverage in the local newspaper The Progress.
The girl’s 13-year-old sister spoke to the council, telling them how her younger sibling learned the formula for the lanternfly spray on TikTok.
“She was not only doing something amazing for our environment, she was doing something that made her feel like a hero. Our neighbor across the street saw my sister spraying the trees with the solution and didn't know what she was doing," Hayden said. "Instead, he decided it would be appropriate to call the police on my sister.”
According to the 2020 U.S. Census, Caldwell has a population of 8,831: 78.2% of the population is white, 4.4% is Black or African-American alone.
New Jersey 101.5 could not locate contact information for Lawshe.
Lawshe’s attorney, Greg Mascera, told The Daily Beast, which was first to report about this, that his client called police but denied it was racially motivated and that he is a "good guy." Mascera called Joseph's statement about her daughter being scared of police as "absurd."
Dan Alexander is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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