Mineola, NY – The Nassau County Legislature voted 12 to 6 after a five-hour meeting on Monday to pass a bill to make first responders a protected class so they could sue activists and collect damages, and civil rights groups are furious.
Nearly 40 people spoke in opposition to the measure at legislature’s meeting on Aug. 2 before the bill passed, the Garden City Patch reported.
“There is no justification for violence against first responders,” Nassau County Legislator Joshua Lafazan, the bill’s sponsor, said at the meeting. “And these bills will add further protections into law for Nassau County’s first responders as they protect us.”
The newly-passed law made police officers and other first responders a protected class under the Nassau County Human Rights Law.
The new law made it a hate crime to “harass, menace, assault or injure” any first responder, the Levittown Patch reported.
And if that first responder is in uniform, the law says there is an “irrebuttable presumption” that they were targeted because of their profession.
Lafazan introduced the bill in June in response to the Black Lives Matter protests last year and said “the recent widespread pattern of physical attacks and intimidation directed at police has undermined the rule of law and put all of our civil liberties in danger,” according to the Levittown Patch.
“As legislators, we have determined that there is urgent need to enhance the legal protections afforded to our law enforcement personnel and other first responders under the Nassau County human rights law,” Lafazan said.
Under the proposed law, first responders could sue for damages, punitive damages, and legal fees, the Levittown Patch reported.
And if the incident occurred while the officer was responding to “a riot,” then the payout would be triple, according to the Garden City Patch.
The law further directed the county attorney to sue on behalf of the aggrieved first responder if the victim didn’t wish to pursue the action themselves.
Law enforcement officers under the new law can sue for up to $25,000 per violation, WLEX reported.
They can sue for up to $50,000 if the harassment takes place while the first responder is responding to a “riot.”
The term “riot” is not defined in the legislation, the Garden City Patch reported.
Critics of the new law said that law enforcement would use it as a weapon to silence people, WLEX reported.
“This bill is a clear act of retaliation against Black Lives Matter,” civil rights attorney Frederick Brewington said, WCBS reported.
“This is trying to shut down and dampen and chill the voices of those who would dissent and raise their voices against abuse by police,” Brewington claimed.
Tracy Edwards, the regional director of the Long Island chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) also loudly complained, the Garden City Patch reported.
“What you are doing with this bill is you are taking this profession and you are putting that chosen profession above all of those people who fought during the Civil Rights movement,” Edwards said.
“Police officers, if they are harassed, they can arrest people. They can use the law. That’s why we have legislation,” she said. “We have wonderful police officers who can protect themselves. They do not need to have a human rights law to put them above all others.”
“And that’s what you are doing,” Edwards continued. “You are taking that chosen, sacred profession and you are trying to put it above all others. Because [Legislator Lafazan] has a tough campaign. That’s what this is about.”
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran has not said whether she planned to sign the bill into law but said she would reach out to the New York Attorney General’s Office to “provide some advice” on how to proceed, WLEX reported.
“I’m proud of the dedicated first responders who’ve made Nassau the safest county in America, and I will continue to stand against defunding the police,” Curran said in a statement after the bill was passed. “My Administration is committed to protecting the brave men and women of law enforcement who keep us safe.”