Garner, North Carolina, police swarmed into a Black woman’s home and confiscated several of her belongings, all because a neighbor called 911 to complain about her playing Malcolm X speeches, which he described as “Islamic-Jihadist,” too loudly.
“My children were terrified,” Thompson told the news site. “I was terrified that there was a whole bunch of men with guns in my house.”
Officers reportedly spread out Thompson’s home and took a MacBook, HP laptop, computer monitor, computer speakers, seven iPhones and even an alarm clock, before issuing her a summons to appear in court on June 24.
Again, all of this over her allegedly violating the town’s noise ordinance, a decidedly non-emergency, and a misdemeanor that carries up to $500 fine, maximum.
They took all her devices that they deemed capable of producing loud, disruptive noise because Thomas’ neighbor complained about her playing the Malcolm X speeches too loudly.
“The raid was officially insane and based on an unconstitutional statute,” Thompson’s attorney, T. Greg Doucette told IndyWeek. “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.”
But this is not Thompson’s first time dealing with Garner police, who have come to her home multiple times due to the same neighbor’s complaints and have taken her property before.
The issue dates back to about April 22, when Don Barnette, the neighbor in question, complained about Thompson playing “loud Islamic-Muslim preaching,” in her backyard while she cleaned her patio.
Officers came over to her home three times that day, before ultimately fining her $50 for violating the noise ordinance and then getting a search warrant and taking her $250 stereo, which Thompson said she’s yet to get back.
Officers came back again on May 16 after Barnette complained about Thompson playing “amplified speech being projected by some sound amplification device.”
A decibel reading was never done to see how loud the speeches were actually being played, but according to IndyWeek there was no need for police to do so under the town’s noise ordinance. Thomas is accused of violating bans on “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.”
This is an issue, according to Durham lawyer Jonathan Jones, who specializes in First Amendment law, as it allows officers the discretion to determine whether a crime is, in fact, being committed and “creates a standard that is too flexible and therefore open to abuse.”
Thompson reported one of the instances in which police initiated contact after Barnette’s complained. In the video, you can hear the speeches going in the background, however, Thompson’s conversation with the officer remains clear.
“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 told the news site 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 claims that he and his family are victims of a “hate crime,” insisting that he’s not racist.
“I don’t have anything against any Black person that acts like they’ve got sense,” he told IndyWeek, claiming that Thompson was playing the speeches loud enough to wake him up at 7:15 a.m. (something Thompson denies).
“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.”
“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 told IndyWeek in response. “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.”
Since the raid, Thompson has said she fears for her life, and she and her family have since moved to a hotel.