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Dozens of speakers blast harassment law

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Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo signed a law Monday to make intentionally annoying a police officer a crime over the objections of dozens of speakers at a public hearing.

Dinolfo didn’t attend the hearing in the legislative chambers of the County Office Building, where 36 speakers warned that the bill would divide police and civilians, was likely unconstitutional, and could set the county up for costly litigation down the road.

The county executive had been unwavering in her support for the legislation, which makes it illegal for a person to intentionally “annoy, alarm or threaten the personal safety of” a police officer or other first responder.

“I certainly trust that the law will be applied as intended and I trust our law enforcement officers will do the right thing as they apply this law as they see fit,” Dinolfo said earlier Monday, after lighting the county Christmas tree.
Roc/ACTS President Gayle Harrison speaks out against a proposed county law that would make it a misdemeanor to intentionally “annoy, alarm or threaten the personal safety of” a police officer or other first responder. - PHOTO BY JEREMY MOULE
  • PHOTO BY JEREMY MOULE
  • Roc/ACTS President Gayle Harrison speaks out against a proposed county law that would make it a misdemeanor to intentionally “annoy, alarm or threaten the personal safety of” a police officer or other first responder.


Republican legislators, who unanimously passed the bill, were also absent from the hearing.

Local defense attorneys, civil liberties groups, social justice activists, defense attorneys, Democratic legislators, and community members do not share the county executive’s optimism. They see a law that has potential for abuse and that could undermine gains in police-community relations.



Activist, musician, and former public defender Danielle Ponder said she fears that the proposed legislation “will further divide an already fragile community.”
Several elected officials from outside of county government have registered their objections.

City Council Vice President Willie Lightfoot, a retired firefighter, said council members are preparing a letter outlining their opposition to the measure. Brighton Supervisor Bill Moehle, who also spoke at the hearing, said he and the town’s police chief, David Catholdi, oppose the law.

Mitchell Apple, a civilian who emphasized he’s not a Democrat and that’s he’s “pro-cop,” chastized the absent GOP legislators for passing a law that amounts to government overreach. He warned the Republicans that they were alienating the future of their party.

“How can I have my Second Amendment right if I don’t have my First Amendment right?” he said.

The fight over the legislation won’t end with Dinolfo’s signature. Local defense attorneys have made it clear they will challenge it in court, and activists are already mobilizing to protest the measure.

“We will be shutting down every single County Legislature meeting that we can,” said Ashley Gantt, an activist and an organizer with the Genesee Valley Chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

Jeremy Moule is CITY's news editor. He can be reached at jmoule@rochester-citynews.com.

WXXI News reporter James Brown contributed to this story.

This article was updated after County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo signed the pending law.

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