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by Dr. E. Faye Williams
Dr. E. Faye Williams

(TriceEdneyWire.com) – Noteworthy indicators demonstrate our ‘shrinking’ world. The rapid spread of COVID-19 is a clear example. Plant and animal invaders without natural enemies also proliferate exponentially and cause significant damage to our ecosystem.

Wikipedia describes the ‘spotted lantern fly’ as: a plant hopper indigenous to parts of China. It has spread invasively to Japan, South Korea, and the United States. Its host plants include grapes, stone fruits, and the Chinese sumac tree. In its native habitat, their populations are kept in check by parasitic wasps. The piercing wounds caused by their mouthparts and the honeydew waste they excrete have been found to be significantly detrimental to the health of host plants. In 2014, it was recorded in the U.S. and is now invasive throughout the Northeast.

Contrary to what may be suggested, this is not an entomology essay. It provides background to a story about a psychological assault on a nine-year-old Black child.

Nine-year-old Bobbi Wilson learned about the harm posed by the spotted lantern fly. In October, with homemade insecticide in-hand, Bobbi explored her Caldwell, N.J., neighborhood for the winged-invaders. She enthusiastically pursued her mission until it was interrupted by the police who had been called with a report that: “There’s a little Black woman walking, spraying stuff on the sidewalks and trees on Elizabeth and Florence. I don’t know what the hell she’s doing. Scares me, though.” The complaint also noted that she wore a ‘hood.’

Gordon Lawshe, a former Republican Councilman in Caldwell and a neighbor of Bobbi’s family made the complaint. The police responded, but upon arrival determined that Bobbi was a child. The responding officer waited with Bobbi until her mother came to see what was happening. After she arrived, Bobbi’s mother, Monique Joseph, recalls Bobbi asking: “Am I in trouble?” Joseph pulled her close while she and the officer reassured her that nothing was wrong.

The excuse offered by Lawshe was that he thought she was a “lost little girl” or “little old lady with dementia.” The apology Lawshe offered was not accepted because Joseph could not understand why he called the police before his own investigation, especially since their families had been neighbors for years and there was only one Black family on the block.

This incident has forced the Caldwell community to deal with perceptions of race and racism, the weaponization of police, and the ability of people of color to occupy and move in space interpreted by Whites as ‘their own.’ This incident asks the question: “What circumstances define the ability of Blacks of any age to coexist in any community?”

Apparently, many Whites perceive Blacks of any age, gender, or size as a threat. Reasonable adults who watch videos of Bobbi can discern that she is a child and I am sure the same is true in-person. We are blessed that the responding officer demonstrated more restraint than Timothy Loehmann, the Cleveland, Ohio, officer who murdered 12-YO Tamir Rice within 13 seconds of exiting his police cruiser.

Lawshe’s complaint is another example of Whites using the fear of stereotypical Black behaviors, inherent in many White officers, to intensify officer’s desire to control the coming and going of Blacks. Like any ‘nuisance species,’ age, gender, size, and intent are irrelevant.

Ms. Joseph says that the encounter has changed her daughter. Bobbi remains confused and still tries to process the event. Testifying before the Caldwell City Council, Hayden, Bobbi’s 13-year-old sister said: “She was not only doing something amazing for our environment, she was doing something that made her feel like a hero. What Mr. Gordon Lawshe did to my sister was extremely offensive, traumatic, and scarring towards my family. I can confidently assure you guys that she will never forget this.”

We won’t either!

(Dr. E. Faye Williams is president of The Dick Gregory Society <thedickgregorysociety.org>; <drefayewilliams@gmail.com> and President Emeritus of the National Congress of Black Women.)

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