Yale honors Black girl reported to police as she sprayed lanternflies to save trees

Francis Akhalbey February 01, 2023
The Yale School of Public Health honored Bobbi Wilson -- Photo Credit: Andrew Hurley/Yale

Bobbi Wilson, the 9-year-old girl whose White neighbor called the police on her as she sprayed lanternflies to save trees in her Caldwell neighborhood, has been honored by the Yale School of Public Health.

In a news release, the prestigious university said it held a ceremony last month where Wilson was honored for her “efforts in eradicating the invasive spotted lanternfly in her hometown of Caldwell, New Jersey.”

The 9-year-old, who visited the university with her family and friends, was also honored for donating her personal collection of lanternflies to Yale’s Peabody Museum. The university said the collection has since been entered into the museum’s database, adding that Wilson has also been officially named as the donor scientist. 

“Yale doesn’t normally do anything like this … this is something unique to Bobbi,” Yale School of Public Health Assistant Professor Ijeoma Opara said. “We wanted to show her bravery and how inspiring she is, and we just want to make sure she continues to feel honored and loved by the Yale community.”

The January 20 ceremony was the second time Wilson had visited Yale. The university initially invited her for a tour after it became aware her White neighbor had called the police on her. The October incident occurred as Wilson was killing lanternflies with a homemade repellent mixture of water, dish soap, and apple cider vinegar.

The individual who reported the minor to the police was identified as Gordon Lawshe, a former Republican Party leader in Caldwell. One of the trees Bobbi was trying to save was planted by her grandmother, Face2Face Africa reported at the time. Wilson’s mother, Monique Joseph, opened up about the incident during a mayor and council meeting on November 1. 

“The morning of October 22, our neighbor called the police, identified himself and reported, ‘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,’ and included that she was wearing a hoodie,” Joseph said at the event, per The Progress

In the wake of the incident, Joseph said Lawshe refused to have a dialogue with her after she asked Caldwell police to arrange for them to meet at the police station. But Lawshe later rendered an apology to Joseph, The Guardian reported.

The October 22 incident garnered nationwide attention and reignited the conversation about racial profiling. “My heart is screaming, there are not words in the English dictionary that can really capture what my heart feels, what my mind feels, probably what Hayden [Wilson’s older sister] and Bobbi feel, but this day for Bobbi and my family started out scary,” Joseph said in reference to the incident.

“The closest I can relate it to is the day we lost my mom. You know, you hear about racism; you kind of experience it in your peripheral if you’re lucky in your life. It doesn’t come knocking on your door. That morning when it happened, my world stopped.”

Per research, police are more likely to fatally shoot Black and Hispanic children during encounters. This is, however, not the case for their White peers. 

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: February 1, 2023


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