Alvin Bragg, Manhattan District Attorney, was elected following the summer 2020 uprisings, in which millions took to the streets across the United States to protest the state violence of police, jails, and prisons. On the doorsteps of people, there were calls for decarceration or defunding of police. Bragg, like many other candidates for Manhattan DA position, portrayed himself as a progressive procuror who would respond to the outcry for accountability.
Bragg is being targeted because he failed to keep the promises that won him election. We shouldn’t be surprised by this backlash. This is not surprising. Historically, any advancement in the rights for Black and Brown people was met with fearmongering and repressive crackdowns from the institutions of oppression. The state’s power cannot be ceded easily, from Reconstruction and the Black Codes up to the Black Power Movement and the War on Drugs . Pro-carceral media and police unions are working together to reverse the recent criminal justice reforms. Bragg is also being accused of trying to increase equity in a system that was anti-Black and aimed at engendering and imposing racial marginalization.
Backlash against Bragg will be a common reaction to the recent murders of Jason Rivera and Wilbert Mora. Many politicians and media outlets will exploit this event to stop the forward momentum and most necessary reforms as demonstrated by Mayor Adams’ Blueprint to End Gun Violence. This will be used by those who seek to increase the power of police and legitimize punishments, jails, and prisons.
We know from our coalition that these policies are a significant step towards making Manhattan safer. However, they are not radical.
Bragg’s memo gave context and empirical support to the changes he sought to make in this office. Bragg is a former prosecutor who believes that the police are valuable and that justice can be achieved through the court process. Bragg does not want to undermine these traditional methods that are intended to ensure community safety. He has been criticised by the left for failing offer the transformational change community leaders and advocates of criminal justice reform have urged for for decades.
Bragg’s policies have not changed the office and won’t address the system’s inequalities. Many of the prosecutors who supervised the office during the previous administration are still employed by Bragg as their leaders. Bragg has stated that he will not prosecute many of the same charges as Cy Vance. These charges were either dropped by Bragg or so rarely prosecuted, this policy will have very little effect. Bragg will continue to pursue charges related to guns, assaults, and other crimes that are considered violent.
Bragg’s approach to his job is different than his predecessor. He aims to make the office transparenter and more accountable to the public. Bragg does not listen to only the police and city electeds. They know that fear is a powerful tool to win political support. He listens to the data and hears from credible messengers, as well as communities directly affected by excessive police force.
Bragg’s policies won’t make Manhattan an exception. They will bring Manhattan into line with other boroughs within the same city. Similar practices have been used by Bronx and Brooklyn prosecutors for many years. Vance states that Manhattan sent the most New Yorkers to Rikers Island pre-trial despite it being the third largest borough. Bragg’s plans are to address the inefficient and troubling practices of the regressive Manhattan DA’s office over the past decades. These include seeking excessive sentences, upgrading charges to make it appear more serious despite not having any evidence, and using pretrial detention to coerce pleas.
These failures are not to be equated with Bragg being “anti-police” and “soft on crime,” but it is a way to try to rectify them. To call Bragg such is copaganda. Bragg was close to the police all his career. These allegations that Bragg now wants to undermine them are false. These voices urge Bragg to be held accountable for his actions as he nears the end if his first month in office.
Bragg is not ” progressive prosecution“. He provides slightly more humane methods within a criminal justice system that is characterized by cruelty. To be truly considered “progressive,” a prosecutor must give up their power and invest in community organizations that have been proven to be more effective than police or incarceration. We want to see no prisons anymore and that our job is done. Prosecutors must do the same.
Appling is a public defense attorney and a member of Black Attorneys of Legal Aid. Stottlemyer, a Manhattan public defender and member of Five Boro Defenders, is Stottlemyer. They are members the People’s Coalition for Manhattan DA Accountability.