At about 10:00 p.m. Thursday, a swarm of Garner cops banged on Mikisa Thompson’s door, as police cars, with red and blue lights flashing, flooded the street in front of her split-level house on Vandora Springs Road, partially blocking traffic. A booming voice demanded that she and her family step outside.
It’s unclear how many officers were there—at least a half-dozen, though Thompson thinks it was more. (A police captain couldn’t give a precise number.) Regardless, it was a large enough presence to frighten Thompson’s children, who hid in the upstairs bathroom.
But then they realized that Thompson would be facing armed police alone, and that scared them more. So, with a cell phone broadcasting the incident on Twitter, they went downstairs as she opened the front door. The police read Thompson a search warrant. Then they spread throughout the house, seizing a MacBook, an HP laptop, a computer monitor, computer speakers, seven iPhones, and an alarm clock. They also issued her a summons to appear in court on June 24.
“My children were terrified,” Thompson says. “I was terrified that there was a whole bunch of men with guns in my house.”
Her alleged crime: violating the town’s noise ordinance, a misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of a $500 fine.
Specifically, they’d executed a search warrant late at night, seeking and confiscating any device capable of producing disruptive noise, because Thompson’s white neighbor had complained that she’d played Malcolm X speeches too loudly.
“The raid was officially insane and based on an unconstitutional statute,” says Thompson’s attorney, T. Greg Doucette. “Doing a midnight raid with nine officers—over a noise ordinance, of all things—is a disproportionate show of force that shows there’s something else at play. That’s the type of overkill that’s intentionally designed to terrorize and punish people, not to actually do what’s necessary for enforcing the case.”
This wasn’t the first time the Garner police had seized Thompson’s property for allegedly violating the noise ordinance following the same neighbor’s complaint.
One of the 911 calls to complain about Muslim Preachings of Malcom X pic.twitter.com/VmqpV21L02
— MikisaThompson (@Blackmomrade) May 21, 2019
On April 22, Don Barnette called 911 to say that Thompson, who has a Black Lives Matter sign in front of her house, was playing “loud Islamic-Muslim preaching” in her backyard while she cleaned her patio. Officers came to her property three times that day, eventually issuing her a $50 fine for violating the noise ordinance and then obtaining a search warrant and seizing her $250 beFree stereo.
She’s yet to get it back, she says.
They returned on May 16 because Barnette told police that Thompson had continued to play “amplified speech being projected by some sound amplification device,” according to the second search warrant.
The police never conducted a decibel reading to see how loud the sound actually was. Under Garner’s noise ordinance, they don’t have to. The section Thompson allegedly violated bans “the creation of any unreasonably loud, disturbing and unnecessary noise … of such character, intensity, and duration as to be detrimental to the health and welfare of any individual.”
The ordinance also forbids the “playing of any radio, phonograph, television set, record player, sound reproduction device or any musical instrument in such a manner or with such volume during the hours between 11:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m., as to annoy or disturb the quiet, comfort, or repose of persons in any dwelling house, apartment or other type of residence.”
None of Thompson’s alleged violations of the ordinance occurred during this time period, so the police did not cite this portion of the ordinance in the warrant.
Jonathan Jones, a Durham lawyer who specializes in First Amendment law, says the ordinance’s vague wording leaves the question of whether a crime occurred up to the police. That “creates a standard that is too flexible and therefore open to abuse.”
While the ACLU of North Carolina declined to comment on the specifics of the case, field manager Jessica Turner says the situation follows “a disturbing pattern of people calling 911 on black and brown people for simply engaging in everyday life like gardening in their backyard. It’s quite literally life and death for people of color when the police are called on them.”
Last year, several police-involved incidents of “existing while black” made national news, including a white Yale student who called the cops on a black student napping in a common area, black men arrested while waiting for a friend at a Philadelphia Starbucks, and a white man who called Winston-Salem police because a black woman was using a community pool.
Thompson—whose daughter Takiyah was among the activists who toppled a Confederate monument in Durham in 2017—says her rights have similarly been violated.
“I’m a second-class citizen in the eyes of Garner and the Garner PD,” she told the INDY after her first run-in with the police on April 22. “It feels like the things that Malcolm X spoke about in the sixties are exactly the same in 2019.”
She recorded one visit from the police that day and posted it online. In the video, an officer told her she was playing speeches by Malcolm X and Angela Davis too loudly. The speeches are audible in the background but don’t overpower Thompson and the officer’s conversation.
In a statement, Garner police told the INDY the stereo’s speaker was pointed at Barnette’s house.
“Our officers did everything they could at the time to try and bring a peaceful conclusion to this issue before seizing the speaker,” Captain Joe Binns wrote in an email. “First, we warned Ms. Thompson and asked her to turn it down. When she refused and received a second complaint, we issued her a citation for violation of the ordinance. And finally, when she continued the loud and unreasonable noise, a search warrant was obtained and the speaker was seized. While I cannot make an inference as to whether Mr. Barnette took issue with the content of the noise, our officers were only concerned about how loud the noise was and the fact that we had a valid noise complaint from a neighbor.”
Barnette did take issue with the noise’s content, which he described to the INDY as “Islamic-Jihadist-type messages.”
“When it’s talking about killing white people and if you’re black and you still work for a white man, you’re a slave, all that kind of stuff, I don’t need to hear that,” Barnette says. “My grandkids don’t need to hear that mess.”
Barnette, sixty-five, says he’s not racist—“I don’t have anything against any black person that acts like they’ve got sense,” he says—but the noise coming from Thompson’s property was loud enough to wake him up at 7:15 a.m. (Thompson denies playing speeches that early, or during the hours proscribed by the ordinance.)
These neighborly tensions appear to be part of an ongoing dispute. A few weeks before Barnette called 911 on Thompson, his Labrador retriever killed Thompson’s Yorkie after the Yorkie got under the fence; no charges were filed, according to Garner police. But Barnette says Thompson is playing the victim while his family is being harassed through the excessive noise.
“My family and I feel like we are victims of a hate crime,” he says.
“The victim of a hate crime is picking up the phone on black people whose only crime that you can detect is that they are playing ‘Islamic speeches,’” Thompson counters. “All you know is it was loud, it was black, and it was somebody proud of being black, and you wanted to put it to an end.”
On May 16, after Barnette contacted the police a second time, officers met him at his house at about 5:30 p.m. An officer reported that he could hear sound from the property line—which, again, is only violating Garner’s noise ordinance if the police say it is, as there’s no objective standard for what is “detrimental to the health and welfare of any individual.”
The police obtained a search warrant from a magistrate at 8:45 p.m. and arrived at Thompson’s house at about 10:00 p.m. to execute it.
Binns says the police were merely trying to “keep the peace” in the neighborhood.
“It’s gone to the extreme that it has mainly just because of the uncooperation of Ms. Thompson and the fact she keeps turning her radio back up and annoying her neighbors,” says Binns, who says he’s unaware of any other noise-related complaints against Thompson. “We normally don’t have to go to this step. We’ve charged many other folks before with a noise ordinance violation, but never to this extreme.”
Doucette calls the raid “absolute overkill. All crime in Garner must have been solved” for the police to commit that many resources to a misdemeanor violation, he says. (The Garner Police Department has sixty-three sworn officers, according to its website. Binns told the INDY Wednesday that only ten officers were on duty Thursday night, which means nearly the entire available police force showed up to execute a search warrant on a misdemeanor noise ordinance.)
The police took computers and phones “to make their lives harder, to make sure they had no way of communicating with anyone,” Doucette adds. An iPhone, he points out, can’t produce disruptive noise; the police also left the family’s televisions.
“It is punitive. It’s not trying to do an investigation, it’s not trying to gather evidence for the district attorney to decide what to do,” Doucette says. “It is trying to use the process to punish someone even though they have not actually committed a crime.”
Though the Garner police say they were only concerned with “how loud the noise was,” the May 16 search warrant notes twice that Thompson was playing Malcolm X.
Jones says that “just sets of all sorts of red flags that perhaps there’s some animus here about the actual content as opposed to just the noise level.” If the content played a role in the police’s action—consciously or subconsciously—that would be a violation of the First Amendment. Courts have ruled that all restrictions on speech have to be content-neutral.
Interestingly, the police had responded to a noise complaint at Thompson’s address in March 2015, before she lived there. In that incident, records show, an officer noted that music “could be heard from the street.” But the officer decided that the music didn’t violate the ordinance, so he didn’t issue a citation.
After her first encounter with the Garner police, Thompson told the INDY that she couldn’t sleep.
“I don’t feel comfortable here,” she said, “because it’s not just the neighbors. It’s the police that uphold the white supremacist ideology. That’s painful.”
At 3:00 a.m. Friday, five hours after the cops raided her house, Thompson emailed to say she feared for her life: “There was no provocation or warning,” she wrote. “They were watching the house all day. Garner PD wants to kill me.”
Since the raid, the family has moved into a hotel, Doucette says.
Garner Thompson 051619Warrant-Redacted2 by Jeffrey Billman on Scribd
Contact staff writer Leigh Tauss at email@example.com. Additional reporting by food and digital editor Andrea Rice. This story has been updated and edited for print.
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As A Black American woman who is A true admirer of Malcolm X who owns books, listens to speeches, and has went as far to sign a petition for Remembering Malcolm X so he can have his own day I can honestly and truly say that this woman was trying to annoy her neighbors while using Malcolm X as an excuse to do so. Because why did she keep blasting it when the Police had already been there twice? What it shows is that she has no respect for her neighbors who live around her. It doesn’t matter if she blasted Malcolm X, Martha Stewart, or even Dow Jones Stock report if you know any type who of noise may possibly annoy those around you then don’t do it. Whatever happened to treat others the way you would want to be treated! Life is not about pushing your weight, having your way, and doing as you please! I am angry because she used Brother Malcolm as A way to justify being disrespectful and annoying others. Malcolm was A very respectable, mannerable, and compassionate individual. Malcolm was not A racist and during his last days after leaving the Nation of Islam and returning from Hajj in 1964after worshipping with people of all races whom he referred to as being his brothers he was willing to come together, work with and unify with people of all colors. He was working with blacks, whites and whoever else to help solve the race problem. She needs to learn there is nothing wrong with listening to whatever she chooses to listen to but do it in decency respecting your fellow man. You don’t turn the volume up very loud and get mad, scream racism, and play the victim after being reprimanded three times in one day. She should have gotten the point the first time the officer came to the house, but instead she acted like A jerk and kept turning it up thinking she was going to get away with it. As I’ve stated before it’s not about the content she was listening to because it doesn’t matter what she was listening to but it’s about respect and human decency. Even Malcolm would have told her to be respectful instead of behaving like A narcissist and playing the victim when it came back to bite her for being a smart aleck and turning up after being warned twice.
well amerikkka seems to regress every day even more as said clemenceau,adding to its inherent racist violent behaviour aimed at blacks especially in the south political correctness and cops racism and thirst for power and control can allow the most uncontrolled vicious psychotic brutal sadistic behaviour towards any citizen for any reason at any time
Plain and simple, Ms Thompson is wrong. She’s angry about her dog and is harassing her neighbor. She should be ASHAMED and SHAMED for using Malcolm X and BLM as props in her vendetta. The article did succeed in showing both sides of the story, but Ms Thompson is obviously in the wrong here.
Every human with the ability to communicate denies wrongdoing. It’s the reason societies bother with justice systems at all. So it’s a small wonder that a race-baiting yellow journalist latched onto the “innocence” of a “victimized” POCs as given in order to paint a picture of injustice and racism.
We see through you
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