Police reform advocates are criticizing a Nassau County bill that would increase protections for police and other first responders under human rights laws. The bill, set for a vote on Monday, would allow police to bring civil lawsuits against anyone who harasses or menaces them as those terms are defined under New York penal law.
The bill was drafted by County Legislator Joshua Lafazan of Woodbury, who caucuses with Democrats, but is registered as unaffiliated with any political party. He described the intent of the bill as a way to protect police from a “widespread pattern of physical attacks and intimidation”.
“There is an urgent need to enhance the legal protections afforded to our law enforcement personnel,” Lafazan said during a committee meeting. “To make them whole in the face of injury suffered at the hands of rioters and other individuals bent on lawless behavior, and to deter and punish such destructive behavior in order to protect the human rights of all people.”
The bill ignited controversy as soon as it was brought up in a closed-door caucus meeting, and again on Nassau’s legislative floor. Legislator Siela Bynoe, a Democrat from Westbury, said she was concerned protesters angry at police misconduct could be sued.
“We're talking about a civil case,” Bynoe said. “They have to pay to have a defense attorney act in their interest. And that can be a significant burden.”
The bill has divided Democrats, but is now being championed by the Republican majority who pushed the bill to the full legislature for vote.
“I think this legislation is long overdue,” said Legislator Steve Rhoads, a Republican from Bellmore. “I believe I speak for the members of our caucus when I say that we intend to support."
If passed, opponents want County Executive Laura Curran, a Democrat running for reelection this November, to veto the bill. Her spokesperson said similar legislation to protect first responders was unanimously passed in 2019.
“We look forward to hearing the public comment and discussion at the Legislature meeting on Monday,” they said. “We will review any potential amendments that may be proposed by the Legislature.”
“This proposed law gives police the same statutory context as persons of color,” Frederick Brewington, a civil rights lawyer, said. “It’s effectively forcing protestors to choose not to voice their views or demonstrate out of fear of sanctioned reprisals.”
A coalition of police reform and LGBTQ advocates said the bill is unconstitutional and will lead to a police state. They called any elected official who remains silent on it a “coward” and bowing to the “political and financial pressure” of the police unions.
“It's obscene, and it trivializes the lives of thousands,” David Kilmnick, president of the LGBT Network, said.
“Am I going to lose my job because of the color of my skin? Am I going to be beaten because I'm transgender? Can I walk down the street safely because I may be holding hands with someone of the same gender. That's the real threat that exists in our society," he continued. "The threat of police officers being attacked just because they're police officers is a bunch of garbage.”
The groups labeled Lafazan “a fraud” for previous support of Black Lives Matter issues following the murder of George Floyd. Lafazan did not respond to requests for comment.