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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Banner of dissent, long may it wave
By BILL MAXWELL, Times Columnist
Published August 19, 2007
Depending on your definition of what it means to be a "true American," some events and acts force you to ponder your civil libertarian bona fides and assess your understanding of "freedom of speech" as enumerated in the Bill of Rights.
Take what happened to Deborah and Mark Kuhn of West Asheville, N.C.
On July 25, Buncombe County Deputy Brian Scarborough arrested the married couple at their home for desecrating Old Glory. They had hung the flag upside down on their front porch and pinned on it several comments, including a photograph of President Bush with the words, "Out Now."
Displaying the flag upside down traditionally is a sign of distress. The Kuhns believe that Bush has put the nation in distress with his disastrous war of choice in Iraq and a host of other failures.
Scarborough, also a National Guardsman who had served seven months in Iraq before becoming a full-time deputy on July 13, learned of the flag that morning when a fellow Guardsman, who had driven past the Kuhn home, filed a complaint with the sheriff's office.
Without an order, Scarborough decided to handle the complaint personally, although as a sheriff's deputy, he did not have jurisdiction inside the city limits where the Kuhns live. According to eyewitnesses and police reports, the Kuhns opened their door and walked onto the porch after Scarborough knocked, whereupon he showed them a printed copy of a 1917 North Carolina flag desecration law.
After reading the law, the Kuhns took down the flag, but Scarborough demanded their identification. When the couple refused to show identification, Deborah Kuhn said, she and her husband asked Scarborough if he was arresting them. When the deputy continued to demand identification, the Kuhns walked inside their house and dead-bolted their door.
The Kuhns and their next-door neighbors, who witnessed the incident, said Scarborough kicked in the door, broke a window and entered the house. Deborah Kuhn told police that Scarborough "pursued my husband into the kitchen. They were scuffling, (and) Mark was trying to get away from him. He pulls out his billy club, and I call 911 and say that an officer has broken into our house and is assaulting us."
The Kuhns ran into the yard to escape, but he chased them. Deborah Kuhn screamed for help. By then, another officer had arrived.
Shawn Brady, a neighbor, along with his roommates, witnessed the action and described it for the Mountain Xpress newspaper: "I ran outside and asked them what's going on, and there's cops chasing Mark around the car. They threaten to Taser him and demand that he get on the ground. He gets on the ground, and we ask (the police) what they're being charged with. They tell us it's none of our concern. I tell them they're our neighbors, and it is our concern."
The Kuhns were arrested and taken to the county jail, where, according to the Mountain Xpress, they were charged with "two counts of assaulting a government official and one count each of resisting arrest and desecrating an American flag. Their son posted their $1,500 bail shortly afterward."
A week before Scarborough arrested the Kuhns, Asheville Police Chief Bill Hogan also had received a complaint about the flag, and he dispatched an officer to the house to investigate.
"We researched it - left it at the officer's discretion and decided not to take any enforcement action," Hogan said.
In the end, Buncombe County Sheriff Van Duncan asked the district attorney to drop all charges against the Kuhns, saying, ironically: "Whether we agree with someone's actions whether or not to hang the flag upside down, it does seem to be the intention of the Supreme Court, which is the supreme law of the land, to allow that. So in other words, the Kuhns are allowed to do what they're doing. On the other side of that, if it weren't for young men like Deputy Scarborough, we wouldn't have those rights."
Following an internal affairs investigation, Duncan let Scarborough keep his job.
"We have basically done the corrective actions that we're going to do," he told Asheville's Citizen- Times on Tuesday. "We don't want an incident like this to happen again. It would not be prudent not to take corrective action to make sure that it doesn't happen again."
Duncan would not divulge the corrective action taken.
Understandably, the Kuhns - who grasp the concept of freedom of speech in the First Amendment - feel betrayed.
"I'm very, very sad," Mark Kuhn told the Citizen-Times. "It seems like the deputy's rights are being protected. We, and the people of the county, we're the ones who still don't have any rights. We don't even have the right to know what's going to happen to him. So once again, the man wins."
The writers of the Bill of Rights never intended for the government - "the man" - to abuse the rights of the Kuhns of the nation.