Protest Over Proposed Law Stalls Broome Legislative Session

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Protestors holding posters representing grave stones of Broome County Jail inmates who have died over the last several years. (Gabe Altieri/WSKG)

Updated: 11/22/19 – 1:43 P.M.

BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG) – More than 100 protestors delayed the start of a Broome County Legislative meeting for about an hour on Thursday. There were clashes with police and some people were taken out of the building. According to the Broome County Division of Security, nine people were arrested and charged.*

Protestors stalled the meeting for about an hour. (Gabe Altieri/WSKG)

Chants of “no justice, no peace” and “if we don’t get it, shut it down” rang through the hall as law enforcement tried to control the number of people in the room, citing fire code.

They were pushing back on a resolution that would allow law enforcement to arrest people who annoy, alarm or threaten emergency responders. It’s called the Emergency Responders Act of 2019. In the end, there was no vote on the proposal. Instead it will be held over until the county legislature’s next session so an amendment tying it to state law can be added.

The measure would include protections for paramedics, firefighters and police. “Our emergency first responders work hard and do a tough job,” said Legislator Scott Baker. “We appreciate all they do to keep us safe everyday.”

Shanel Boyce. (Gabe Altieri/WSKG)

Meanwhile, opponents worry about how the law would be enforced, specifically by police.

“Basically, we’re just here just to urge the county not to pass this law,” said activist Shanel Boyce. “It’s going to cost you guys a whole lot of money and it’s going to put marginalized people further in jeopardy.”

Many protestors also mentioned marginalized people. They worry the measure would disproportionately affect transgender people and people of color. Republican Legislator Stephen Flagg scoffed at that idea.

Legislator Stephen Flagg. (Gabe Altieri/WSKG)

“This is not a race issue, it’s a matter of helping all emergency services personnel – too often critical situations in the most time sensitive manner. This could be your family.” said Flagg, as the crowd began to bellow in protest of his assertion.

Flagg also claims this law doesn’t supersede First Amendment Rights under the U.S. Constitution.

The New York ACLU has come out against the proposal, writing that it’s not illegal to annoy law enforcement. If it passes, a lawsuit questioning the measure’s constitutionality could be filed.

“I’m very concerned about a lawsuit coming to the county, which we can ill afford,” said Democratic Legislator Mary Kaminsky, while questioning whether emergency responders already have the protections laid out in the proposal.

Protestors, many of whom were from activist groups Citizen Action, JUST (Justice and Unity for the Southern Tier), and PLOT (Progressive Leaders of Tomorrow), also spotlighted several Broome County Jail inmate deaths in recent years.

*Updated to reflect latest information on arrests