A New Jersey mother and her 13-year-old daughter read powerful words before a local city council to detail just how traumatic of an experience they lived through. Monique Joseph told the Borough of Caldwell City Council that her 9-year-old daughter Bobbi was spraying spotted lanternflies, which she had learned about in school, when their neighbor called the police on the child.”
He said, ’There’s a little black woman walking, spraying stuff on the sidewalks and trees. I don’t know what the hell she is doing, it scares me though,’” Joseph said, recounting her neighbor’s words to a dispatcher.
Her neighbor, Gordon Lawshe—who also happens to be a co-chairman and treasurer of the Caldwell Republican Party—reportedly added that the child was wearing a hoodie, Joseph told the council on Nov. 1, and The Progress newspaper confirmed.
Trayvon Martin, a Black teen carrying Skittles and an iced tea on his way back from a store at the time, was wearing a hoodie when he was shot and killed by a neighborhood watch captain on Feb. 26, 2012, in Sanford, Florida.
The state contended in its murder case against Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman, that the watch captain instigated a fight with Martin on his way to the home of his father's girlfriend.
Zimmerman had followed Martin in an SUV and called 911 to report a "suspicious" man.
“This guy looks like he’s up to no good, or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining, and he’s just walking around,” Zimmerman said during the call CNN described.
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Elijah McClain, 23, was wearing a ski mask and dancing on his walk home from a convenience store on Aug. 24, 2019, when someone called 911 to report that he "looked sketchy." Aurora Police officers responded by forcing McClain to the ground and allowing paramedics to inject him with the sedative ketamine. McClain was taken to the University of Colorado Medical Center, declared brain dead on Aug. 27, 2019, and taken off of life support three days later, when he died.
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“It is sickening and scary to hear my neighbor use triggering words that have resulted in the deaths of too many Black and Brown children and adults at the hands of police,” Joseph said. “‘Black,’ ‘hooded,’ and ‘I’m scared’—those are trigger words.”
It’s unclear if Lawshe knew the damage he could have set in motion when he called the police. The white Republican declined to comment with The Progress.
But for Joseph, his intent is not the point.
“Racism, intentional or not, is still racism,” she said. “I am 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 experience on the very street that we live on.”
Joseph said her 9-year-old daughter was “afraid to go outside of her front door the next day.”
The mother’s question for the Republican Party was:
“Do you condone this behavior?”
Caldwell Mayor John Kelley, a Democrat, didn’t pretend to speak on behalf of the Republican Party. He apologized to Joseph as soon as she finished her speech.
“I'm so sorry you went through that,” Kelley said. “Council president, I know you're running the public portion of the meeting, but I am troubled by it, ma'am, and I'm so sorry that your daughter experienced that, and thank you for sharing.”
Kelly said what Joseph and her daughter experienced does not represent Caldwell. Joseph’s older daughter, Hayden, also spoke during the meeting's public comment portion to defend her sister Bobbi, who was spraying a mixture of water, vinegar, and dish soap to kill invasive spotted lanternflies. She had learned about them at school. “She was not only doing something amazing for our environment, she was doing something that made her feel like a hero,” Hayden said. “I can confidently assure you that Bobbi will not forget this.”