PLOT “Annoy the Police” rally in opposition to new law

Local News

Some local activists are bundling up Thursday night for a common goal – they want to annoy the police.

Earlier this month, the Republican-controlled Broome County Legislature proposed a new bill titled, “The Emergency First Responders Protection Act of 2019.”

Local social justice activists have dubbed it the Annoy the Police Law.

The law does, in fact, use the word “annoy.”

The law would authorize the arrest of anyone found to be harassing a police officer or other emergency first responder, such as firefighters and EMT’s.

Those arrested could receive up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine.

The legislature is scheduled to take up the bill at its meeting today at 5 PM.

Monroe County passed a similar law on November 12th.

The local groups PLOT, or Progressive Leaders of Tomorrow, JUST, or Justice and Unity for the Southern Tier and Citizen Action are pushing back on the proposal

“A year in the Broome County Jail is often a death sentence,” PLOT said in a released statement.

The jail has had at least ten deaths in recent history, and PLOT blames poor or no medical care, saying that inmates are subject to abuse and a violation of their human rights.

Broome County Sheriff Dave Harder, who runs the Broome County Jail, has steadfastly denied the allegations of poor treatment.

State Senator Fred Akshar is in favor of the law.

“People who wear the uniform voluntarily are being targeted specifically because of their employ, specifically because of the job that they have and the uniform that they wear. The legislation is relatively simple. We need to do everything we possibly can to protect those who are protecting us,” said Akshar back in October.

PLOT says the law interferes with their free speech rights and that the law is too vague in terms of what constitutes harassment.

The New York Civil Liberties Union agrees.

It plans to testify today that the proposed bill is unconstitutional.

The NYCLU goes on to say that similar bills have routinely been struck down by the courts.

The group says the proposal would merely cost the county attorney’s fees as it plans to file suit if it becomes law.

PLOT has planned a protest rally for Thursday evening beginning at 4:15 outside the Broome County Office Building.

The activists say they do not believe they can stop the bill completely, as there Republicans have a strong majority on the legislature, but they aim to delay and hopefully cause some of the legislators to rethink the consequences of the bill.

“We have an obligation to disrupt ‘business as usual’ when business is harming vulnerable populations,” says PLOT.

PLOT considers people of color and other minorities to be vulnerable populations.

The event is expected to draw a heavy police presence, and while its goal is for nobody to get arrested, PLOT does warn it is a possibility.

Below is the document released by the NYCLU.

Testimony of the New York Civil Liberties Union




Proposed Local Law Entitled “Emergency First Responders Protection Act of 2019”

Thursday, November 21, 2019

The NYCLU, the New York State affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, is a not-for-profit, nonpartisan organization with eight offices across the state and over 190,000 members and supporters. The NYCLU defends and promotes the fundamental principles and values embodied in the Bill of Rights, the U.S. Constitution, and the New York Constitution, through an integrated program of litigation, legislative advocacy, public education and community organizing. The First Amendment and due process rights of every New Yorker are fundamental to our democracy, and protected by the both the Constitution of the United States and that of New York. The NYCLU has long been a leader in the fight to ensure that every person may enjoy these fundamental rights.

We are grateful for the opportunity to submit the following testimony regarding the proposed Broome County law titled the “Emergency First Responders Protection Act of 2019.”

            The proposed law, which would allow anyone who “annoy[s], alarm[s] or threaten[s] the personal safety of” police or other first responders to be thrown in jail for up to a year and fined up to $5000, irreconcilably clashes with the First and Fourteenth Amendments. It is flatly unconstitutional, has been thrown out in nearly identical iterations by every court to review it,[1] and, if it is ever enforced here, will be similarly struck down, perhaps at considerable expense to the County.  The NYCLU urges Broome County not to adopt it.

            Simply put, the government can’t toss people in jail for being annoying. The First Amendment protects expression that “annoys,”[2] expression that “alarms,” and, absent imminent risk of violence,  expression that “threatens.”[3] And the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment requires the law give people adequate notice of exactly what behavior can get them arrested.[4] Statutes – like the one proposed here – that criminalize without elaboration “annoying,” “alarming” or “threatening” conduct, and give police broad discretion to decide what behavior is “annoying,” “alarming” or “threatening,” run afoul of both amendments.

The United States Supreme Court has consistently struck down such laws, noting that because “[c]onduct that annoys some people does not annoy others,”[5] the law cannot “tie[] criminal culpability to whether a defendant’s conduct was ‘annoying’ or ‘indecent.’”[6]

And the New York Court of Appeals has followed suit, explaining that “Casual conversation may well be . . . intended to “annoy”. . . But unless [such] speech presents a clear and present danger of some serious substantive evil, it may neither be forbidden nor penalized.”[7]

            What’s more, clearly established[8] law actually requires police to tolerate annoying, abusive, and to a degree, threatening remarks as part of their job duties. The NYCLU agrees that many Emergency First Responders deserve appreciation and commendation for their hard work and sacrifice, yet the law is clear: courts have uniformly rejected efforts to criminalize speech directed at law enforcement. Noting that the First Amendment protects a “significant amount of verbal criticism and challenge directed at police officers,”[9] both the United States Supreme Court and the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals have routinely held police to a higher standard than the general public when it comes to tolerating verbal rebuke. Simply put, by virtue of their job duties and training, police are expected to “exercise a higher degree of restraint than the average citizen” in the face of harsh or threatening language.[10] Thus a law that affords police unfettered discretion to decide that some of language is “annoying,” “alarming” or “threatening” enough to justify arresting the speaker simply doesn’t comport with the First Amendment.

             The NYCLU urges the Broome County Legislature not to enact this flatly unconstitutional law.

[1]           Twice in matters brought or defended by the NYCLU. See, Vives v. City of New York, 305 F.Supp.2d 289 (S.D.N.Y. 2003) (declaring unconstitutional under the First Amendment a provision of NY Penal Law that criminalized mailing certain materials with intent to “annoy” or “alarm,” and denying qualified immunity); and People v. Golb, 23 N.Y.3d 455 (2014) (throwing out, for the same reason, a part of New York’s aggravated harassment statute criminalizing “communication” “in a manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm,” and citing Vives.).

[2]           See, e.g., Matal v. Tam, 137 S. Ct. 1744, 1763 (2017); 582 U.S. ___ (2017) (“We have said time and again that “the public expression of ideas may not be prohibited merely because the ideas are themselves offensive to some of their hearers.” Street v. New York, 394 U. S. 576, 592 (1969)). See also U.S. v. Stevens, 559 U.S. 460, 470 (2010) (“The First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech does not extend only to categories of speech that survive an ad hoc balancing of relative social costs and benefits. The First Amendment itself reflects a judgment by the American people that the benefits of its restrictions on the Government outweigh the costs.”); Texas v. Johnson, 491 U. S. 397, 414 (1989) (“If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable”); Hustler Magazine, Inc. v. Falwell, 485 U. S. 46, 55–56 (1988); Coates v. Cincinnati, 402 U.S. 611, 615 (1971); Bachellar v. Maryland, 397 U. S. 564, 567 (1970); Tinker v. Des

Moines Independent Community School Dist., 393 U. S. 503, 509–514 (1969); Cox v. Louisiana, 379 U.S. 536, 551 (1965); Edwards v. South Carolina, 372 U. S. 229, 237–238 (1963); Terminiello v. Chicago, 337 U. S. 1, 4–5 (1949); Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U. S. 296, 311 (1940); Schneider v. State (Town of Irvington), 308 U. S. 147, 161 (1939); De Jonge v. Oregon, 299 U. S. 353, 365 (1937).

[3] See Watts v. United States, 394 U.S. 705, 708 (1969) (“true threat” doctrine); United States v. Kelner, 534 F.2d 1020, 1026 (2d Cir. 1976) (only a threat that “on its face and in the circumstances in which it is made is so unequivocal, unconditional, immediate, and specific as to the person threatened, as to convey a gravity of purpose and imminent prospect of execution” loses First Amendment protection).

[4] See Grayned v. City of Rockford, 408 U.S. 104, 108 (1972) (“It is a basic principle of due process that an enactment is void for vagueness if its prohibitions are not clearly defined.”).

[5] Coates, supra at 614 (statute prohibiting “annoying” conduct “contains an obvious invitation to discriminatory enforcement”).

[6] U.S. v. Williams, 553 U. S. 285, 304 (2008).

[7] See People v. Dietze, 75 N.Y.2d 47, 50, 549 N.E.2d 1166, 1167 (1989).

[8] Because it is clearly established that laws criminalizing annoying speech violate both the First and Fourteenth Amendments, any official sued for enforcing this law would not be entitled to qualified immunity. See, e.g., Vives, supra at 303 (denying qualified immunity as to arrests under statute criminalizing “annoying” or “alarming” conduct).

[9] See, e.g., City of Houston, Tex. v. Hill, 482 U.S. 451, 462–63 (1987) (“The First Amendment protects a significant amount of verbal criticism and challenge directed at police officers… The freedom of individuals verbally to oppose or challenge police action without thereby risking arrest is one of the principal characteristics by which we distinguish a free nation from a police state.”)

[10] Lewis v. City of New Orleans, 415 U.S. 130, 135 (1974) (“a properly trained officer may reasonably be expected to exercise a higher degree of restraint than the average citizen”) (Powell, J. concurring); Provost v. City of Newburgh, 262 F.3d 146, 159–60 (2d Cir. 2001) (“Only ‘fighting words’ directed at police officers can be criminalized, and the ‘fighting words’ doctrine is probably ‘narrower


application in cases involving words addressed to a police officer, because a properly trained officer may reasonably be expected to exercise a higher degree of restraint than the average citizen.’” quoting City of Houston, supra at 462); see alsoPosr v. Court Officer Shield No. 207, 180 F.3d 409, 415 (2d Cir. 1999) (“The statement ‘One day you’re gonna get yours,’ when spoken [to a police officer] while in retreat and unaccompanied by any actions that would suggest a threat of immediate violence, cannot be the basis for a legitimate arrest.”).

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