Suburban NY county considers letting police sue protesters

Bill would make police, first responders a protected class in Nassau County Legislature

Lawmakers in a suburban New York county are set to vote Monday on a proposal that would allow police officers to sue protesters and collect financial damages — a move civil rights activists say is payback for demonstrations after the police killing of George Floyd last year in Minneapolis.

Newsday reports that the bill being considered by the Nassau County Legislature would make police officers and other first responders a protected class under the county’s Human Rights Law, which currently bars discrimination based on race, religion, gender and sexual orientation. No other professions are protected under the Human Rights Law.

This photo from Monday July 13, 2020, shows Nassau County Police officers walk alongside protesters participating in a Black Lives Matter march through a residential neighborhood calling for racial justice in Valley Stream, N.Y. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

The bill would allow a lawyer for the Long Island county to sue protesters on behalf of officers and calls for fines of up to $25,000 for anyone who harasses, menaces or injures an officer. The fine amount would be doubled if the offending behavior happened “in the course of participating in a riot,” the bill says.

Civil rights lawyer Frederick Brewington told reporters Friday that the bill violates free speech rights and, if passed, will have a chilling effect on protesters. The NAACP said it will bring members to Monday’s vote.

“If you want to shut someone down, take away their livelihood,” Brewington said. “If you want to shut someone down take away their spirit. This is intended to evoke fear in the community … This is payback. It’s not right. It’s not acceptable and it is against the law.”

The bill’s backers, a Democratic legislator and an independent who caucuses with Democrats, declined to comment to Newsday. The head of the county’s police union told the newspaper he supports the bill.

County Executive Laura Curran, a Democrat, hasn’t said whether she’d sign or veto the bill if it’s approved in the Republican-controlled legislature. A spokesperson told Newsday that Curran “looks forward to hearing the public comment and discussion” and will “review any potential amendments that may be proposed by the legislature.”

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