About 75 minority and progressive activists gathered in Mineola Friday night to urge Nassau County’s executive Laura Curran to veto an “unconstitutional” law that would allow police and first responders to sue protesters if they do being harassed or injured due to their status as a first aider.
Opponents of the legislation – a number of proponents of police reform, including the New York Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP and the LGBT Network – said the bill would restrict freedom of speech by bringing people to justice for making statements to officials.
“The bill that sits on [Curran’s] Waiting at a desk for her to make a decision is not only unconstitutional but also immoral, “said Kiana Abbady of Freeport, a member of the Long Island Progressive Coalition.
The protesters held signs that read, “This legislation is a shameful attempt to silence dissent” and “Which side are you on?
“All this bill would do is further undermine trust at a time when trust between communities and the police is at an all-time low,” said Port Washington’s Melanie D’Arrigo.
Curran, a Democrat who will be re-elected in November, has asked Attorney General Letitia James to comment on the bill. Curran has 30 days to sign or veto the bill, which GOP-controlled county law passed on Monday.
“I continue to speak to local residents and law enforcement agencies and look forward to the attorney general’s review of the legislation,” Curran said in a statement Friday.
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But Chairman Officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park), a proponent of the bill, said prosecutors were able to advise Curran on whether the bill is legal.
“The district executive is obviously looking for an excuse to veto the law,” Nicolello said on Friday. “The county board should take a stand one way or another. It was the residents of Nassau who voted for them, not the attorney general, to make those decisions.”
In 2019, lawmakers unanimously passed a law adding first responders, including the police, as a protected class under the county’s human rights law on housing, employment and public housing. The law prohibits discrimination based on factors such as race, disability, gender, and sexual orientation. Other professions are not protected by law.
Legislators voted on Monday with 12-6 votes – after five hours of testimony from more than 100 residents – for the district attorney to file lawsuits on behalf of first responders to seek financial damages against demonstrators for “discrimination”.
The bill, sponsored by Legis. Syosset’s Josh Lafazan, an independent working with the Democrats, would make an “irrefutable presumption” that any harassment or injury is motivated by her uniformed police status. The bill is supported by the police unions.
Penalties for “discrimination” can be up to $ 25,000 per offense, or up to $ 50,000 if the offense occurs “while engaging in a riot.”
“This bill does not deprive anyone of the right to protest,” said Ricky Frassetti, president of the Superior Officers Association. “It offers protection to our law enforcement officers and first responders who are targeted because of the uniform they wear.”
Opponents claim, however, that the measure puts the police over groups such as racial minorities and those who are discriminated against because of their religion or sexual orientation.
“It equates a career with the life and experiences of blacks and browns, of race, gender, gender, religion and that is unacceptable,” said Nia Adams of Jericho.
With Candice Ferrette
Robert Brodsky is a breaking news reporter who has been with Newsday since 2011. He is alum from Queens College and American University.
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