On July 25, Mark and Deborah Kuhn were were arrested in Asheville, North Carolina, on charges of assaulting an officer, resisting arrest, and desecrating the American flag. The bare facts of the case are as follows:
- The Kuhn's were flying the American flag upside down on their porch.
- Upon being visited by Asheville city police, who were concerned by the "distress signal" sent by the inverted flag, the Kuhn's informed the police officer that it was not they, but their country, which was in distress. They then pinned signs to the flag, one of which featured a picture of President Bush with the words "Out Now", and another which explained the meaning of the upside down flag.
- Somewhere around July 20 the Kuhn's were visited by a man in fatigues, driving a car with federal plates, who "harassed" Mark Kuhn at the door for not flying the flag "right". The man was later seen taking pictures of the flag from his car.
- On July 25, Buncombe County Sherrif's officer Brian Scarborough arrived at the Kuhn's house, responding to a report of desecration of the flag.
- Officer Scarborough suffered scrapes and cuts on his hand in what happened next.
And then realities diverge.
The Kuhn's claim that officer Scarborough showed them a print-out of the North Carolina statue forbidding "desecration" of the national or state flags. They proceeded to take down the flag, but the officer asked to see their identification. The Kuhn's state that they asked why he needed to see their identification, and whether they were being arrested. Upon receiving no clear answer, they walked back in the house and closed the door. Officer Scarborough proceeded to kick the door repeatedly, and then broke the glass pane in the door in order to unlock it. After chasing Mark around the house and yard, while Deborah called 911 and ran into the street screaming for help, officer Scarborough and other county officers finally quelled the Kuhn's with threats of being tasered, and arrested them.
Eye witness reports offered by the Kuhn's neighbors support their assertions.
The Buncombe County Sherrif's Office, on the other hand, claims that after Officer Scarborough stated his intention to issue a citation Mark Kuhn walked into the house, slamming the door so hard it broke the glass. Scarborough then followed the Kuhn's into their house, where he claims a struggle ensued and Deborah Kuhn struck him in the face. Mark Kuhn evaded Scarborough's grasp and ran into the yard, where he was subdued.
The Kuhn's were released from jail on a $1,500 bond, and face up to 420 days in jail if convicted.
Just looking at the facts and trying to fit them together into one picture, we quickly come up against some items which lend credence to the Kuhn's story. Officer Scarborough claims his hand was cut when the door was slammed. The Kuhn's claim he broke the glass in the door in order to unlock it. While it is possible that Scarborough had his hand positioned so that falling glass showered it upon the slamming of the door, it is somewhat hard to imagine a trained officer leaving his hand resting on a door while it slams. The idea that he cut his hand while breaking into the house seems far more likely, and is corroborated by witnesses.
Once the door was closed, Officer Scarborough had a choice to make: proceed into the house, or seek an arrest warrant. Police are allowed to enter a home without a warrant if they are in "hot pursuit" of a suspected criminal who is attempting to flee, but traditionally the officers' ability to apply this loophole "is dependent to a great extent on the seriousness of the crime committed". Clearly, flying the flag upside down (or even pinning things to it) would not seem to merit being considered a "serious" crime, in the sense of placing others in immediate danger. Scarborough's entrance of the house is itself, then, on rather dubious ground. One can easily imagine how having an officer enter your home with no warrant might lead to a struggle. We do, in fact, have a "right to resist" when a policeman steps outside the law in order to pursue his objectives.
The Kuhn's feel that their arrest clearly confirms their stance that the nation is in distress. They are just two people, in a small town, who got in a heapload of trouble for a peaceful protest. We, as a nation, cannot afford to let the lessons of their story pass by unnoticed. To accept that "they should have known better" is to accept limitations on our own rights. It is to accept fear and submission, as if Scarborough were standing over each and every one of us with his taser, telling us to lie down and accept the inevitable.
It is not traitorous to protest the actions of our country in a peaceful manner. It is not wrong to say our government has made mistakes. It is not stupid to do this publicly. It is, very simply, the obligation of every citizen of this nation to make their voice heard. If we do not, we have no business claiming to live in the land of the free.