Saturday, August 04, 2007

The War at Home

JOHN COUTLAKIS - Asheville Citizen-Times

The War in Iraq came home to Asheville last week and it wasn't pretty.

Mark and Deborah Kuhn had been flying an American flag upside down for several weeks. In the middle of July, an Asheville city cop stopped by their house to ask if everything was OK as flying the flag upside down is a distress signal. The Kuhns said they were fine. The officer told them that he had been informed that there was a NC statute forbidding flag desecration, but that as far as he was concerned the law neither applied nor was enforceable. The parties bid each other a good day.

Enter Buncombe County deputy sheriff Brian Scarborough hired full-time just six weeks ago after serving seven months in Iraq as a National Guardsman. Scarborough had been approached by at least one other local Guardsman who was upset by the Kuhn's display, informing Scarborough about the NC statute written in 1917. Scarborough then took it upon himself to enforce the law even though the Kuhn's live within the city limits where law enforcement is usually left to the police department.

The accounts of what happened differ. The Citizen-Times has consistently pushed the deputy's version barely mentioning the Kuhn's account as well as several other eyewitness accounts. Scarborough says he approached the house, presented the Kuhns who were outside with the statute and that they complied immediately, taking down both the flag and the attached signs which were recent additions. After this, the stories diverge.

Scarborough maintains, he asked for ID, the Kuhns refused, started to enter their house, and then slammed the door on his hand, breaking a pane of glass from which he suffered minor lacerations. He forced his way in and then arrested the Kuhns for desecrating the flag, assault on a law enforcement officer, and resisting arrest.

The Kuhns and the neighbors tell a different story.

After observing the deputy's request to remove the flag, he demanded ID. The Kuhns refused on the grounds that Scarborough had no right to demand it, they then went into their home and dead bolted the door. Scarborough began to kick at the door and then broke the glass, reached inside to open the deadbolt and made his arrests.

The neighbors also confirm that other people appearing to be Guardsmen (men in fatigues), had appeared at the Kuhn's residence with some unkind things to say during the previous weeks.

After a tremendous outcry, all charges were dropped but the Kuhns are still pushing for Scarborough's dismissal as well as investigating the option of filing charges for unlawful entry.

Emotions are legitimately running high. Servicemen who have lost buddies and who will continue to lose more are understandably incensed not just over lack of respect of the flag, but lack of respect for their efforts and their sacrifice. Which, in no way, excuses what Deputy Scarborough did if the Kuhns and their neighbor's account is correct. We're stuck with increasing polarization and recrimination.

And sadly, it's only going to get a lot worse, as we inevitably draw down without a clear victory, and scapegoatism becomes more symbolic than substantive.