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A thin blue line

Nassau County Legis. Joshua Lafazan proposes a measure

Nassau County Legis. Joshua Lafazan proposes a measure to amend the county's human rights law to "enhance the legal protections afforded to our law enforcement personnel and other first responders under the Human Rights Law." Credit: Howard Schnapp

Daily Point

Fight brewing over police law

Monday is shaping up to be a heated day for the Nassau County Legislature, with the calendar expected to include Legis. Joshua Lafazan’s effort to amend the county human rights law to preclude discrimination against first responders.

The measure would "enhance the legal protections afforded to our law enforcement personnel and other first responders under the Human Rights Law," according to the proposal’s intents section.

The effort would make it "an unlawful discriminatory practice to harass, menace, assault or injure an individual due to such individual’s status as a first responder" and would add civil penalties and liabilities.

Some Democrats and activists are not happy at the prospect. The NAACP’s Hempstead branch is urging people to show up Monday in opposition. Democratic Legis. Siela Bynoe and Kevan Abrahams abstained from an earlier rules committee vote on the measure, according to the clerk of the legislature’s office. And the New York Civil Liberties Union has put out a strongly worded legislative memorandum calling it part of the "backlash" to the Black Lives Matter movement, labeling the measure unnecessary and its civil provisions "absurdly punitive," noting that first responders would be able to collect damages "more than either New York law or the Nassau County Code allows ordinary civilians who suffer hate crimes."

Bynoe told The Point she plans to vote no on Monday and criticized the potential for a "chilling effect upon peaceful protest," as well as the limited way the law would require police to prove they were intentionally subjected to a discriminatory act: The legislation says that when a first responder is in uniform or "otherwise clearly identified as a first responder, there is an irrefutable presumption that such harassment, menacing, assault or injury is motivated by such individual’s status as a first responder."

Lafazan, a Woodbury independent who caucuses with Democrats, also has a resolution to establish a "blue alert system" that would send out a mass communication notice "alerting the public that a law enforcement officer has been the subject of an attack."

He said in an email to The Point that peaceful protesters "will not be affected by this bill, just as they have not been deterred by existing laws allowing police to sue for negligence and intentional acts and just as they have not been deterred by the penal law provisions incorporated in this bill."

He notes that first responders are already included in portions of the county’s human rights law and the bill "simply adds a civil component."

Asked why he was pushing for the bills, he said, "The impetus for sponsoring both bills was witnessing the continued alarming pattern of officers being assaulted in the line of duty as they were called to quell riots and restore order."

— Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano

Talking Point

‘Communities of interest’ coming forward

New York State’s Independent Redistricting Commission has been taking testimony on the major, complex and politically powerful task of redrawing legislative lines for a decade to come. Last week the first of these hearings, focused on Nassau and Suffolk counties, turned out a score of voluntary witnesses who made known a diversity of concerns about keeping what are called communities of interest together in the same boundaries in a way that maximizes their representation on the local, state and federal levels.

"This is an informal listening tour," said commission vice chairman Jack Martins, the former state senator, at the outset of the hour-and-a-half session of the 10-member panel. "It’s one means of allowing people a voice in this process."

The specific appeals from Long Islanders ranged widely. These are just a sample from those who spoke, some under the aegis of various organizations:

John Taylor of Bayville said the fact that the village where he resides is divided between two Assembly districts "makes it a little bit problematic" in dealing with civic issues such as storm emergencies and permitting for the privately funded building of dunes.

Joseph Sackman III of Hicksville said he was only half-kidding as he described the shape of the 15th Assembly District where he resides as something like "a three-year-old Picasso attempting to draw a pony." Jeremy Joseph said his Hicksville community shouldn’t be cut off as it is by the current lines of that Assembly district from parts of Westbury and New Castle.

Eliana Fernandez spoke of disenfranchising minority communities and a line that cuts through Brentwood separating the 3rd and 4th State Senate districts. Harrison Bench of Sayville spoke of how the same lines "crisscross" Sayville and West Sayville. The Town of Islip’s local district, a past area of contention, needs revision to boost the interests of African Americans in Central Islip, said Ed O’Donnell of Sayville.

Michael Fragin from Lawrence spoke of why Nassau’s Five Towns, with a common interest among Orthodox Jewish communities, shouldn’t be absorbed into New York City districts in either house of the State Legislature.

Deborah Payton Jones offered the insight that minority communities in the county-crossing 2nd Congressional District are themselves unique, different and diverse. Both Bob Keeler and Louise DiCarlo argued that the Three Villages Central School District should be moved back into the 1st Senate District as a way of consolidating communities with common interests.

Elmont shouldn’t be drawn into separate Senate districts as it is now, argued Mimi Pierre Johnson of that community.

Both Lillie Crowder of Middle Island and Shoshana Hershkowitz expressed particular concern about dispersing Gordon Heights and its environs among different government districts.

Elise Antonelli of the Babylon-Bay Shore area suggested 2nd Congressional District lines better conform to county and other jurisdictional lines. And both Kevin Hyms of Lake Ronkonkoma and Alex Piccirillo spoke of keeping community interests together as they are now in the 5th A.D.

And the Long Island list went on.

The testimony has been coming from around the state, and a general hearing offering an opportunity for those who didn’t already make the time slots will be held next month, officials said.

The hard part, of course, is to determine how all those interests can be accommodated by the panel and the elected officials who ultimately approve the various maps.

— Dan Janison @Danjanison

Pencil Point

GOP masks up

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Final Point

Feeding the hungry during COVID-19

Check out Newsday Opinion’s new video about hunger relief efforts on Long Island during the pandemic, and how some "mutual aid"-style groups are adding to the region’s food charity ecosystem. LI Helpers, for example, tries to meet community needs, from domestic abuse survivors who need secret deliveries to families looking for specific cultural items like spices or NIDO milk powder.

The group started scrappily by storing items in a co-founder’s garage and using young people for delivery since schools and colleges were not fully operational, coasting quickly around Nassau and Suffolk counties and New York City on traffic-free roads early in the pandemic, bringing people food. Since then, the group’s leaders say they’ve delivered to some 5,000 families.

Though the full shutdown period of this health crisis is in the past and the economy has started reopening, the food crisis is not really abating, says JoAnn Vitale of RISE Life Services, a longer-standing group which operates food pantries in Hampton Bays and Riverhead.

Vitale says there’s not a typical profile of those who need food help anymore, noting that sometimes people pull up with "really nice cars."

"Since COVID hit it’s like everybody and anybody," she says.

Watch the video here.

— Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano

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