(New York, NY) — The Nassau County legislature in Long Island, New York this week passed a bill that would allow police officers to sue individuals who they believe harassed, menaced, assaulted or injured them. The bill provides for civil penalties of up to $25,000, or up to $50,000 if the offense was committed during a “riot.” PEN America today called this new law an unnecessary and unconstitutional effort that will foreseeably be used against people exercising their First Amendment right to protest.

“The newest bill passed by the Nassau County legislature will allow police to sue people–including protesters–who ‘harass’ them, a rule which is ripe for abuse,” said James Tager, PEN America’s research director. “It is abundantly clear that this new law can easily be wielded by police officers against people exercising their First Amendment right to protest, particularly at protests against police misconduct. It will also have a chilling effect upon individuals who are considering coming forward regarding police misconduct during protests, as they may now refrain out of fear of being targeted by a civil suit. Proponents of this bill say it is needed to help protect police officers from harm. Yet it is already illegal to assault a police officer. This bill is not only unnecessary, but it threatens people in Nassau County’s constitutional right to protest without fear of retaliation.”

The bill has already received condemnation from civil rights groups, who view it as a form of retaliation for the largely peaceful Black Lives Matter protests of the previous summer against police abuses. This newest Nassau County law coincides with the years-long national trend that has seen state legislators introduce a multitude of bills that restrict free expression at protests, documented by PEN America in its May 2020 report, “Arresting Dissent: Legislative Restrictions on the Right to Protest,” and its follow-up 2021 report, “Closing Ranks: State Legislators Deepen Assaults on the Right to Protest.” Such bills have only increased in number since the murder of George Floyd and ensuing mass protests for racial justice.