Bobbi Wilson walked outside her North Jersey home on a sunny day in October feeling like a hero.
After learning about spotted lanternflies in school, and researching ways to kill them in a non-toxic way, the 9-year-old girl strutted out of her Caldwell home on Oct. 22, spraying a mixture of dish soap and apple cider vinegar around her neighborhood. Bobbi felt a sense of pride: She was doing something good for the environment.
But this feeling didn't last long, as her neighbor who identified himself as Gordon Lawshe — a former Republican council member — called the police to say that his Black neighbor wearing a hood was spraying things around the neighborhood — and he was scared, the girl's mother said at a recent mayor and council meeting.
"'There’s a little Black woman, walking, spraying stuff on the sidewalks and trees,'" Bobbi's mom, Monique Johnson, recalled her neighbor saying at the meeting. "'I don’t know what the hell she’s doing, scares me though.'
"I’m not here to label anyone, only to share my point of view as a Black woman, a Black mother and a Black resident in this town, to bring awareness on racism and implicit bias that we experienced on the very street that we live on."
Lawshe's attorney, Greg Mascera, told the Daily Beast that his client did make a call to local police but denied that he was engaged in racial profiling.
Joseph commended responding officers for their response, but noted her daughter was afraid when they arrived.
Bobbi's 13-year-old sister, Hayden, also spoke before the mayor and council. She noted how her sister researched a safe way to kill the insects, and 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... decided it would be appropriate to call the police on my sister. He also claimed he was scared."
Hayden says her sister will never forget that day, and the girls' mom noted that the very words that her neighbor used on the phone with police have ended in the deaths of others.
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