On Thursday a gang of police officers in Garner, N.C., raided Mikisa Thompson’s house in the middle of the night because she was allegedly playing Malcolm X’s speeches “too loudly.”
Thompson, Indy Week reports, has been accused of playing “amplified speech being projected by some sound amplification device,” according to a search warrant issued by the Garner Police Department.
The debacle started on April 22, when a neighbor, Don Barnette, called 911 to report a complete non-emergency—that she was blasting “loud Islamic-Muslim preaching” in her backyard:
Police showed up and Thompson began filming to document the exchange:
Thompson was fined $50 for excessive noise; the police also obtained an initial search warrant and confiscated her BeFree speaker, which she says they still have. But she continued to play the speeches in her home as she pleased, and Barnette continued to lodge police complaints against what he described to Indy Week as Malcolm’s “Islamic-Jihadist-type messages.”
Then, last Thursday, at 10 p.m., cops obtained a second search warrant and decided to raid Thompson’s home in the middle of the night. According to Indy Week:
[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.
Of the speaker confiscated after the first search warrant, Joe Binns, captain of the Garner Police Department, said in an emailed statement to Indy Week, “Our officers did everything that they could at the time to try and bring a peaceful conclusion to this issue before seizing the speaker.”
The Root contacted Thompson’s attorney, T. Greg Doucette, who explained that not only were the cops out of line, but their actions were completely unconstitutional. Doucette gave the following statement:
The Garner Case is somewhat unusual because the ordinance Garner Police used is plainly unconstitutional –the federal 4th Circuit Court of appeals (the Circuit that includes North Carolina) ruled that a noise ordinance prohibition on “unnecessary” noise was too vague to be enforceable, in a case from 1983. So that portion of their ordinance has been illegal for 36 years.
Of course, laws vary from state to state, but Doucette says there are two rules that all people can benefit from remembering when dealing with police. He says:
1. Be as polite as possible. Dealing with police, and being raided by police, is stressful. Especially for people of color who know those interactions can go badly and they might pay with their lives. The process to vindicate your rights will happen in a courtroom, likely years later. There’s literally no way someone can win that interaction with police while it’s happening.
2. Record as much as you possibly can. Use your phone, have others in the home use their phones, have it stream somewhere (Facebook Live,Twitter, special apps like ACLU’s Mobile Justice) so police can’t confiscate video.
Just following those two rules will help immensely if you end up needing a lawyer. “Knowing your rights” is good as a general principle, but when police are on your doorstep ready to charge you with a crime, they will not give any fucks whether you know your rights or not – that’s an argument that will have to happen in a courtroom.
Doucette explained to The Root, “We know Ms. Thompson’s Malcolm X speeches weren’t playing that loudly, because she recorded her interaction with the police and you could hear them playing in the background—it wasn’t loud enough to drown out the conversation she was having; and because it was still daylight we know it didn’t happen during nighttime hours (when most city ordinances prohibit loud noise).”
Thompson has been summoned to appear in court on June 24.
If you’re in the area and would like to show solidarity, a press conference and peaceful demonstration march is being planned for Monday, May 27. You can find more information on their Facebook Event Page.
A legal defense fund for Thompson has been set up through PayPal.
Correction: Sept. 16, 2019, 6:03 p.m. ET: This article has been edited to clarify the events of April 22 and to add fuller sourcing.