In response to several recent controversial incidents involving free speech, protests and law enforcement, the local chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union, along with some 20 other groups, are sponsoring a forum on “How to Exercise Your Right to Dissent.”
“We’ve had a rash of incidents lately, from the Sheriff’s deputy arresting the Kuhns for the flag they had upside down, to the [Asheville] police’s involvement with Carolina Animal Action at Malaprop’s, at the Bank of America protest and the Jonas Phillips banner case,” says local ACLU Board Member Alex Cury, who is organizing the event. “We see a need for people to be educated about the most important rights they have and how they can exercise them.”
The forum will be held 7 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 27, in room 221 of UNCA’s Highsmith Student Union. Panelists will include UNCA professors Mark Gibney and Dwight Mullen, ACLU attorney Frank Goldsmith and student activist and regional Students for a Democratic Society chair Katie Ketz. Gibney, a human rights attorney, will moderate the panel.
The organizers have invited local-government officials such as Mayor Terry Bellamy (who has said she will not be able to attend due to a prior engagement), along with Asheville Police Chief Bill Hogan and Buncombe County Sheriff Van Duncan, who, Cury noted, have not yet replied.
“We hope to get them here,” said Cury. “While we have a lot of expertise on this panel in constitutional law, clearly there are municipal ordinances here too that we need to discuss.”
In addition the Western North Carolina and UNCA chapters of the ACLU, a number of other groups have joined in sponsoring the event, including Carolina Animal Action, Veterans for Peace, Women in Black, Students for a Democratic Society, Mountain Voices Alliance, the Buncombe Green Party, WPVM-103.5 and others.
“From law enforcement not knowing that [using the flag to protest] is constitutional to the Bank of America protesters not realizing that the police can arrest you if you’re on private property, there’s need for education here on all sides,” she said.