Chantel Brink
Chantel Brink
April 4, 2024 ·  4 min read

Young girl who had the cops called on her for studying lanternflies wins a major award

You’ve seen the memes and heard the frustration. The spotted lanternfly has become a major pest almost overnight, and people are frustrated dealing with them. They’re massive, scary looking, and are found all over certain areas of the US.

9-year-old Bobbi Wilson, who resides in Caldwell, New Jersey, knocked on her neighbor’s door. With her own DIY insecticide, she asked if she could test it all over the neighborhood. Bobbi originally got the recipe on TikTok and, after learning about the spotted lanterfly’s threat on local tree populations, decided it was time she stood up and do something.

Ridding the US of Spotted Lanternfly, one neighborhood at a time

That’s her thing,” Wilson’s mother, Monique Joseph, told CNN. “She’s going to kill the lanternflies, especially if they’re on a tree. That’s what she’s going to do.” While working on her experiment, her neighbor, Gordon Lawshe decided to call the cops and made a stink of things.

Spotted Lanternfly
Image Credit: Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture

“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,” he said, according to CNN. Lawshe told the dispatcher she was a “real tiny woman” and wearing a “hood.” A child in a hood, trying to destroy a lanternfly population.

The police calmly arrived, unaware of what they would find

On arrival, they assured Wilson and Joseph that they had done absolutely nothing wrong, but her mother was so surprised by a neighbor they knew’s actions. “Mr. Lawshe told Mrs. Joseph that had he known that it was her daughter that he had seen, he certainly would not have called the police. Mrs. Joseph did not accept Mr. Lawshe’s apology,” Lawshe’s attorney, Gregory Mascera, told CNN.

Rebecca Epstein, the executive director of the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality, accused the neighbor of “adultification bias.” This refers to young black girls being treated much more maturely compared to their white peers.

Read: Meet the 8-year-old who just made history as the youngest to climb El Capitan

Spotted lanternfly
Image Credit: Matt Rourke for CNN

It’s a very pervasive form of bias that does not know boundaries, in terms of which fields it occurs in. In emergency rooms, we’re seeing it affect the treatment and diagnosis of Black girls. In schools, we’re seeing it come up in the form of harsher and more frequent discipline against Black girls,” Epstein said in an interview with CNN.

It’s depressing that a 9-year-old girl is seen as a threat by her neighbor. Thankfully, this is not where Bobbi’s story ended. An entire community stood up for the young girl due to her inspirational dedication to a cause so dire. A group of scientists at Yale made Bobbi and her mother their guests this November when they invited them to tour their various labs. She was even invited to submit her spotted lanternfly specimens to the university’s entomology department.

The Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions has since honored Wilson with an award

The Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions honored Bobbi on the 6th of December with their Sustainability Award after hearing what she has done for research and environmental purposes, especially for her work on studying the spotted lanternfly. “We were thrilled that she was doing that,” Ann Marchioni of the ANJEC told the Daily Beast.

Science communicator Jason Bittel spoke with her about spotted lanternflies and how he first got into writing. “When I saw what happened with Bobbi, my heart immediately just sank,” Bittel said, according to New Jersey Hills, “because what I saw in her I was doing as a young boy. We were celebrated, if anything, no one called the police on us or chided us in any way.”

He said that Bobbi must have felt crushed when the police arrived on her street that day of the report. He was impressed by how the community rose up together to stand up for her initiative and passion for science. She has also been given a tub full of all sorts of interactive materials and a textbook that she could utilize to learn even more.

“When this incident originally happened, I had one goal. It was to change the trajectory of that day for Bobbi,” Joseph said. “I can’t say I’ve done it all myself. It wasn’t just me, it was the community. … It was friends near and far that understood what happened.”

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  1. “A neighbor’s call to police on a little Black girl while she sprayed lanternflies exposes a deeper problem, mom says” CNN. November 23, 2022.
  2. “Bobbi Wilson honored at Caldwell council meeting” The Progress. December 12, 2022.
  3. Young girl who had the cops called on her for studying lanternflies wins a major award.” Upworthy. Tod Perry. December 13, 2022