Murphy backs NJ Black girl cops were called on for spraying lanternflies
Gov. Phil Murphy has offered his support to a 9-year-old girl whose neighbor called the police as she sprayed a sidewalk for spotted lanternflies after audio and video of the incident were released.
The girl's mother, Monique Joseph, went before the Caldwell town council on Nov. 1 and described Gordon Lawshe's call to police about a "little Black woman walking, spraying stuff on the sidewalks and trees" while wearing a hoodie.
Joseph said her daughter Bobbi was actually spraying for spotted lanternflies the morning of Oct. 22 using a formula she found on TikTok. She called Lawshe's use of those words "triggering" and "unconscionable," which "traumatized" her daughter.
Joseph told the council that while her intentions are not political she is aware Lawshe is a leader and treasurer of the Caldwell Republican Committee and asked rhetorically what the party planned to do about the situation.
The governor reacts
Murphy commented in a retweet of video showing Monique's older daughter Hayden describing her sister's work to Borough Council members.
"Racism has no home here. No mother should have to worry about the cops being called on their child for trying to make the world a better place," Murphy wrote on his Twitter account. "Bobbi, your mother was right. You were doing something amazing for our environment. Thank you for being a great community scientist."
A call to police
Lawshe's attorney, Gregory Macera, provided New Jersey 101.5 with a link from Caldwell police of the body cam footage of the responding officer and the 71-year-old's call to police.
"There's a little Black woman walking and spraying stuff on the sidewalks and trees by Elizabeth and Florence. I don't know what the hell she's doing. It scares me though. I don't know what she's spraying on the sidewalks and trees," Lawshe told the dispatcher.
The dispatcher asked if she was using a water bottle.
"I don't know what it is. Some kind of solution," Lawshe said.
The dispatcher asked what direction she was headed and Lawshe responded "south."
After asking Lawshe for his name, address, and phone number he asked for a clothing description.
"A real small woman. Real tiny. She's got a hood on. You can't miss her," Lawshe said. The word "hoodie" was not used by Lawshe.
The video shows the officer speaking first to Bobbi and then to Joseph as she and a woman walked toward him. The officer told Joseph about the call and where it came from. Joseph said her daughter was spraying for lanternflies.
"Are you serious," Joseph asked. "Is he a nut? Does he not live across the street from me?"
Joseph told the officer that she says good morning to Lawshe's wife every morning.
After an officer assured Bobbi that she wasn't in trouble, the four had a conversation about lanternflies and a tree the officer saw that was infested.
Bobbi's face is blurred in the video but it is clear she did not have a hood on her head.
Macera told New Jersey 101.5 that Lawshe attempted to apologize twice to Joseph and her daughter the next morning but was rebuffed.
Macera said his client told Joseph that had he known that it was her daughter he would not have called the police.
Joseph did not accept Lawshe’s apology, Macera said.
Macera said that Joseph is a member of the Caldwell Democratic Committee. The group's website is not working and she is not mentioned on their Facebook page.
He said after the incident Joseph went to committee president Jeff Gates and together asked Police Chief James Bongiorno for a meeting with Lawshe. Lawshe declined because he had already apologized twice and believed the situation was getting political.
Macera said that his client's family has been associated with the borough for over 100 years and their name has never been associated with racism.
"Since Mr. Lawshe has been accused of being a racist, he and his family have received threats to their person and property. Mr. Lawshe and his family have been defamed and will continue to be defamed until the innuendo and direct accusations and attacks against Mr. Lawshe and his family cease," Macera said.
EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this story should have said that Lawshe called police on a non-emergency number.