On Monday, Aug. 2, Nassau County, New York, lawmakers enacted a bill that many are now calling a direct attack on demonstrators’ First Amendment rights.
In a 12-6 vote, Nassau County policymakers passed a bill that would empower police officers and other first responders to sue people who abuse them because of their job. In addition, the paper warns that if the offenses occurred during a disturbance, the “aggrieved” employees might face civil penalties of $25,000 per violation or a total of $50,000.
According to the publication, the law still needs to be signed by County Executive Laura Curran before it can be approved, although it’s uncertain whether she would do so. The legislator said she will contact the attorney general’s office to “examine and provide some guidance” in a statement to News 12.
“I am proud of the devoted first responders who have helped make Nassau the safest county in the country, and I will continue to oppose police cuts. Curran stated, “My government is committed to defending the heroic men and women in law enforcement who keep us secure.”
“Today, a number of speakers questioned the legislation. I shall make an inquiry to the Attorney General’s office to review and provide some guidance now that it has been passed by the legislature.”
The bill sparked more than a few questions; it also prompted sharp condemnation from local authorities on Long Island, New York, as well as activists who gathered in the legislative chambers for an eight-hour public forum. Members of law enforcement unions were also present.
Tracey Edwards, the NAACP’s regional director, stated that police already have the power to prosecute anyone who harass them, and that the legislature has disrespected social justice movements and is retaliating against groups like Black Lives Matter.
“What you’re doing with this bill is you’re taking this profession and elevating it above all of those who battled during the civil rights movement,” she explained.
The bill’s irrefutable presumption protection component has been a subject of contention for detractors. Protected classes have the right to sue under the county’s human rights laws for crimes committed against them because of their membership in those classifications.
In 2019, those laws designated first responders as a protected class. However, under human rights rules, a person claiming racial discrimination must prove in court that the action was motivated by racial prejudice.
For first responders, the new bill would eliminate this need.
This might mean that a police officer pursuing a harassment claim under the new law would not have to show that the person being sued acted in an anti-police manner.
“This is aiming to silence, dampen, and chill the voices of individuals who would resist and raise their voices against police abuse,” civil rights attorney Frederick Brewington told KTVZ.
Individuals who support the law argue that it is vital to ensure the safety of those hired to protect and serve the public. The “widespread pattern of physical attacks and intimidation directed towards the police,” according to Brian Sullivan, president of the Nassau County Correction Officers Benevolent Association, though neither the union official nor the bill’s language could provide specific examples.