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Surveilled and Harassed For Playing Malcolm X Speeches: Mikisa Thompson's Resistance

Surveilled and Harassed For Playing Malcolm X Speeches: Mikisa Thompson’s Resistance

I’m just trying to survive as Black woman who wants to do the work to help dismantle white supremacy,” says Mikisa Thompson.

Content note for anti-Blackness and descriptions of police surveillance and harassment. 

“It seems like we cannot do anything that brings us any joy or peace without being interrupted by white supremacy.”

I listened intently as Mikisa Thompson, an organizer and activist, told me her story and it soon became clear that the news reports I’d read had left much unexplored about her experiences in Garner, North Carolina. On May 16, Mikisa’s home was raided by police after her neighbor, 65-year-old Don Barnette, called 911 to request police assistance because Mikisa was playing was Malcolm X speeches too loudly for his sensibilities. But this wasn’t the first time. On April 22, Barnette called police multiple times for the same thing. That day, officers came to Mikisa’s home several times, ultimately issuing a $50 fine, citing an arbitrary noise ordinance, and seizing her stereo. 

More of the family’s electronics were taken during the night-time raid in May, including phones and laptops. Since the incident, Mikisa believes that her family has been otherwise targeted and discriminated against by whites in the community, creating a hostile and emotionally taxing environment for her and her children.

In his 911 call, Barnette described the Malcolm X speeches as “loud Islamic-Muslim preaching.” In an interview with INDY, he insisted that he is not a racist. “I don’t have anything against any black person that acts like they’ve got sense,” he said. “My family and I feel like we are victims of a hate crime.”

In reference to the Malcolm X speeches, Barnette reasoned, “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. My grandkids don’t need to hear that mess.”

My conversation with Mikisa covered these two incidents, but we also talked about her life, her passion for social justice, and how this situation has otherwise impacted her and her family.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

When and where did your interest in social justice take root? 

“When I was in high school − I believe it was the beginning of the Gulf War in Afghanistan, and it was also a period of time when Mandela was still locked up − we used to do different actions, like boycotting Coca-Cola on our campus. We would host different talks in the community on resistance and what it looked like to support South Africa and why we should support South Africans in being against Apartheid.

My neighborhood in Brooklyn wasn’t diverse, it was mostly a Black neighborhood, and I had teachers who always told us about our history. So, a lot of my spark came from hearing from these teachers, and reading, and also my parents and their background. They’re Jamaican and we would discuss Moorish history, and Nanny, and the different rebellions around the sugarcane fields. We talked about how the Maroons ran off to live in the mountains and nobody else could go there because they would be killed, especially white people looking for the slaves who had decided to free themselves.” 

What has life in Garner been like for you and your family? Even before these two incidents that have made the news.

“Once, my children were playing basketball outside and a neighbor, a different neighbor, called the police on my children for playing in the driveway. He said that he was trying to sleep and they were too loud. It was about 4:30 in the afternoon. My children came and knocked on the door and told me the police were outside and I was amazed. I asked what was going on and the police told me what the call was about and asked for my ID.

There was another noise complaint incident once when I was outside listening to Lil’ Boosie. The cops and I just had an exchange from the curb that time because I was just painting my door and my shutters, so I had music on. That time, they decided to leave, it wasn’t important enough to even come out of the car. Of course, they made a different decision when it was Malcolm X playing from my backyard. I had been listening to his speeches in honor of his birthday in May, and I just like to study him in general. I also listened to Stokely Carmichael that day, Angela Davis, and Marcus Garvey, and I do that because it’s my right and it’s my history.” 

The KKK are still openly active throughout NC, including in Garner. Recruitment flyers can be found every once in a while and the MAGA crowd is heavy. This is the environment and atmosphere that Mikisa and her children live in every day. 

What do you remember about that day, leading up to the night raid in May? 

“I’ve learned and read and studied these things. You know, it’s one thing to read it and it’s another thing to actually go through it because it does not seem real at all. It seems like somebody wrote this story, even though it’s your life, and you’re dealing with white supremacy in your house. Those people coming into my house only reminded me, more and more, of why I listen to Malcolm X, because it was the klan in blue that came to my house, not police protecting and serving.  

It was 10 pm and I was at home with my children, where I’m supposed to be, in my house. That whole day, I was being stalked by the police. They camped out across the street from me. There were two police parked there, and they were having a conversation as they sat there looking at my house for most of the day, until about 4 pm.” 

So, on the night you got raided for playing Malcolm X, they had already been there most of the day?

“Yes, but this happens all the time. We live in a state of repression, constantly. In a state of surveillance, constantly. All of this started more intensely after my oldest daughter was successfully a part of the action that tore down the Confederate statue at the old courthouse in Durham.”

It’s clear that Mikisa’s spirit, reverence for history, and dedication to Black liberation has helped to influence her daughter, Takiyah Thompson. She was arrested in 2017 for being instrumental in the tearing down of a Confederate monument during a demonstration in solidarity with Charlottesville. 

“I once even got pulled over in my own driveway. In 2017, shortly after that. I was just going to the grocery store.”

I sighed with exasperation, still reeling from the revelation that the cops were already sitting outside her house all afternoon. She continued to describe what happened leading up to the raid on her home that night. 

“At around 5:30, I was getting ready for my youngest daughter’s awards ceremony, and Takiyah called out to me, ‘Ma! The police just went to the neighbor’s house.’ She said that they didn’t park across the street, they parked over on a street a little further away. So, I grabbed my phone and went to film the interaction, and once they saw the camera, they went inside the house. Afterwards, we just went on to the awards ceremony and thought nothing of it. Them being there is such a normal occurrence. 

Later, around 9:30, we all got in the car to grab some french fries, and I also picked up some gas to mow my lawn. As soon as I got back and took the lawnmower out, the next thing I know, a whole bunch of lights and police cars are pulling into the middle lane of the street on my block. The back door was open, so I yelled to my kids, ‘They’re here! They’re here!’ And I must have kept saying it without realizing, because my kids were responding, ‘We hear you. We hear you.’ I was just so shocked. 

There was no music. There was nothing playing for hours before they got there. So, I’m thinking, ‘They’re coming to kill me.’ That’s when the raid happened.”

And what happened during the raid? 

“They were here to confiscate and steal electronics, I guess for more surveillance. I just felt terrorized and victimized because we did nothing wrong. We did nothing wrong but study and be Black.

I was told that there were ten people on duty that night, and nine people came to my house, that we counted, but there were more in cars. So, there must have been unpaid people there as well who did not exit the cars. There were definitely more than nine people there. Since then, there’s been a steady stream of surveillance going on, I believe they’ve been filming me from across the street, watching my house.”

A copy of the search warrant presented to Mikisa Thompson

Are there any updates on the case you are able to share? 

“The police kept two speakers, one microphone, and one alarm clock. We were able to get back three computers, seven iPhones, and some charging cables. Some of the things they took aren’t even listed on the paperwork. It was all designed to make other discoveries, I believe. They felt they could make other discoveries on our electronics, through surveilling us and going into our computers and phones.

I’ve been charged with two misdemeanors and violation of a local ordinance. The trial will be August 5th at 10 am, at Wake County Justice Center. 300 Salisbury St. in Raleigh, NC.” 

How can people best support you? 

“We need to be able to take care of ourselves. Because of these charges and other things that have happened, it makes it really hard. When you are out in the world, and you put your face out there, you also put your life out there. It takes money just to live every day. I have three children, two are about to start college, and I’m recently unemployed. It would also be helpful to receive material aid and solidarity. I’m just trying to survive as Black woman who wants to do the work to help dismantle white supremacy. 

Community help would look like financial support, and it would also look like a therapist. Dealing with all of this is traumatizing. Is there a therapist willing to treat me and my family for some of the traumas we’ve been experiencing. Me being an organizer doesn’t make this any easier. I immediately went into organizing mode when it first happened, but the depression really set in after the initial shock. I may be an organizer, but I’m also a mother, I’m a woman surviving all these things while knowing that there is still more to come. I’m still being watched and scrutinized.

Job leads would be tremendously helpful. I need employment by someone who’s not intimidated by someone who also does community outreach work because my name is out there now. There have been a few articles about what happened. Employment is a big issue because soon I might be wondering where we’re going to live.

I was given a stereo by some people at Chapel Hill, so I can still listen to Malcolm X, and I do.”

What has it been like for you and your family since then?

“I want to just be able to live, and raise my children, and breathe just like everybody else. The harassment is real, it’s not something that I’m making up. There has been a backlash. 

I took my youngest daughter to the doctor recently and we were put out, and I know it was because of the article about me. I had been going to that doctor for about two and a half years before that. It was shortly after the very first article came out. I took her to the doctor because she was having severe period pain, and he was speaking to her condescendingly and questioning her level of pain. I didn’t take that kindly and so I spoke up, because we already don’t get the same treatment or care when we go to the doctor and now he was trying to diminish the reality of my teenager’s pain. When I mentioned that, he simply suggested that I leave the room. I said, ‘You want me to get up and leave the room with my child in here while you’re already trying to diminish her pain?’ So, we got put out.”

We both knew exactly what this unfair removal from the doctor’s office was about and we understand how cruel and violent it really is. Just like we know that, with white people who call the cops on Black people minding their business, it’s never about noise. It’s always about making sure that we know our place and using the police, the threat of state violence and the carceral system as a means to terrorize and silence us. Mikisa made it clear that she will not let any of this silence her. 

“The reason I do my work is strictly out of a love for, not only myself and my children, but for every Black person. You cannot be a revolutionary without having revolutionary love, and I try to display that in everything I do, and with everybody I come across. If that means speaking up in ways that might put me in certain precarious places sometimes, I’m still going to do it.”

I continue to be in awe of her resolve in the face of these injustices. Mikisa now has to pay legal fees to fight the two bogus misdemeanor charges she is facing. Since she is recently unemployed, this is a struggle for her. Please help support her and her family by donating to her PayPal or CashApp: $Blackmomrade. You can also follow her work on Twitter and Instagram

Sherronda (she/they) is an essayist, editor, and storyteller writing pop culture and media analysis through a Black feminist lens with historical and cultural context. They often find themselves transfixed by Black monstrosity, survival, and resistance in the horror genre and its many fantastical narratives, especially zombie lore. Read more of their work at Black Youth Project.

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