* Served as Chief Deputy Attorney General from 2017-2018
* Running for the Manhattan D.A. in 2019, he proclaimed, “I’ll work to make the office the progressive leader it should be” and won in 2021 with over 83% of the vote
* In January 2022, he appeared at a National Action Network rally alongside activist Al Sharpton
* During Bragg’s first full month as D.A., which was also Eric Adams‘ first full month as mayor, crime rates in New York City soared
Alvin Leonard Bragg Jr. was born in New York City on October 21, 1973. Raised in an upper middle class home in the historically low-income neighborhood of Harlem, Bragg spent his youth exposed to the notorious New York crime wave of the 1970s and ’80s. He has described his decision to become a prosecutor as a product, in large measure, of his own personal experiences with the city’s criminal-justice system — most notably three occasions when he was allegedly the victim of what he calls “unconstitutional” gunpoint stops by NYPD officers.
From the age of four until his high-school graduation in 1991, Bragg attended the highly prestigious Trinity School, one of the nation’s most elite private institutions, located on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. He went on to graduate from Harvard University with a B.A. in Government in 1995, and later earned a J.D. from Harvard Law School where he served as an editor for the left-leaning, student-run Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Review.
From 1999-2000, Bragg served as a law clerk for Judge Robert P. Patterson Jr. of the Southern District of New York. He then worked as an associate for the New York-based law firm of Morvillo Abramowitz Grand Iason & Anello from 2000-2003, focusing primarily on white-collar crime and civil rights issues.
From 2003-2006, Bragg assisted the office of then-New York State Attorney General and future Governor Eliot Spitzer. He subsequently served as the Chief of Litigation and Investigations for the New York City Council, prior to becoming an assistant U.S. Attorney for New York’s Southern District in 2009.
Bragg continued to advance his career as a New York public official with his return to the State Attorney General’s Office, serving as the Executive Deputy Attorney General for Social Justice from 2013-2017, and as Chief Deputy Attorney General from 2017-2018. Bragg says that during his tenure as Chief Deputy AG, he “oversaw litigation challenging the federal government’s anti-immigrant policies, including the federal government’s attempts to end DACA, impose a travel ban on Muslims, and include a citizenship question on the census.”
In January 2019, Bragg joined the faculty of New York Law School as a visiting professor. He also served a stint as co-director of the school’s Racial Justice Project, which Law.com describes as “a legal advocacy organization that examines issues of racial inequity and works to address them through litigation and policy recommendations.”
On June 18, 2019, Bragg officially announced his intent to challenge the incumbent Cy Vance Jr. in the 2021 Democratic primaries for District Attorney of New York County — i.e., Manhattan. Bragg vowed that his “grassroots campaign” would not accept any corporate political donations. “We’re not going to be unduly influenced by anyone,” he declared.
In an official campaign video by which he launched his run for D.A. of Manhattan, Bragg identified the borough’s “two standards of justice” — “one for the rich and powerful and connected, and one for everyone else” — as the focal point of his priorities. “As D.A., from day one, I’ll work to make the office the progressive leader it should be,” he said, pledging to: (a) “reverse mass incarceration, especially in communities of color”; (b) carry out “thorough and transparent investigations of police misconduct”; and (c) “keep neighborhoods safe [by] ensuring one standard of justice.”
Bragg’s campaign website summarized a wide range of policies that the candidate planned to implement as Manhattan District Attorney. Among these were the following:
Reducing Gun Violence: “Comprehensive gun-violence reduction can only be achieved through a multi-faceted approach that includes law enforcement, community intervention/improvement, and legislative change. We will not arrest or incarcerate our way out of these problems…. For years, our city attempted to address violence with blunt, catch-all strategies such as stop-and-frisk and broken-windows which were ineffective, racist, and created a deep distrust of police by communities of color. […] Study after study has shown that overly broad increases in enforcement have little to no effect on reducing crime.”
Ending Racial Disparities: “In fighting police misconduct, Alvin knows that Black and Latinx people accounted for 80% of the police-involved deaths in New York City from 2010-2015, while no unarmed white people were killed by the police during this time, and pledges to create a new Police Integrity Unit to ensure there is one standard of justice in Manhattan and no special protections for the powerful and well connected.”
Declining and Diverting Minor Offenses: “Our courts have been clogged with petty offenses for too long. From smoking marijuana to jumping a turnstile, our criminal courts spend far too much time treating minor offenses with the same blunt instruments used to address homicides and other violent crimes. […] These cases do not belong in criminal court. The punishments are disproportionately harsh, and fall disproportionately on the backs of people of color. This makes them morally indefensible. […] This is why I will not prosecute most petty offenses through the traditional criminal court system. With important but limited exceptions, I will either dismiss these charges outright or offer the accused person the opportunity to complete a program without ever setting foot in a courtroom. Upon successful completion of that program, their case will be dismissed.”
- Bragg further announced that he “will decline to prosecute any of the following charges, without exception”: marijuana misdemeanors, turnstile jumping, trespass, driving with a suspended license, consensual sex trade, outdated offenses, resisting arrest for a violation or non-criminal offense, and obstructing governmental administration.
Fighting for Economic Justice: “Alvin’s Economic Justice Initiative will target labor crimes against working people, such as negligence in workplace safety, and cheating workers out of overtime, workers’ compensation, paid sick leave, and unemployment insurance by ‘misclassifying’ them as independent contractors, or forcing them to work off the books.”
Ending Mass Incarceration: “As District Attorney,” said Bragg’s web page, “Alvin will make incarceration the last resort and will work to reverse the effects of mass incarceration” by doing the following:
- “For cases that the [D.A.] office does recommend incarceration, the maximum sentence will be 20 years, absent exceptional circumstances.”
- “Opposing any sentence of life without parole. Everyone should have a chance for parole.”
- “Supporting legislation repealing mandatory minimums.”
- “Eliminating the use [of] predicate felony sentencing enhancements.”
- “Cases involving substance use and mental illness will be analyzed through a public health lens. Every case will be eligible for courts specializing in certain types of programming, such as drug treatment and mental health treatment.”
- “The [D.A.] office will take into account the immigration consequences of charging someone with a crime and of any sentences.”
- “Taking an active role in cases through the parole process, including writing letters in support of release to the parole board as a default position for every parole-eligible case.”
- “Opposing revoking probation or parole for technical violations or requiring community supervision where it is not needed.”
- “In any case in which a person allegedly violates the terms of a non-incarceratory sentence or pre-plea programming mandate, seek an incarceratory ‘alternative’ to be imposed only as a matter of last resort, after repeated opportunities are afforded for a successful completion of the mandate.”
- Publishing charging, conviction, and sentencing data, along with racial and other demographic data.”
Reforming Pretrial Detention: “Even though New York’s bail reforms made significant improvements to reducing the number of people incarcerated because they do not have cash bail, Black and Brown people are still disproportionately impacted.”
Free the Wrongfully Convicted: “Wrongful convictions are the height of injustice. They ruin the lives of the wrongfully convicted, impair law enforcement’s ability to apprehend the persons who actually committed the crime, and severely undermine the public’s faith in our criminal justice system. When I become Manhattan’s District Attorney, I will abolish the existing CIU [Criminal Investigations Unit] and start […] a Free The Wrongfully Convicted Unit.”
Combating Hate Crimes: “As Manhattan D.A., I commit to halting the rise in hate crimes and repairing the harm to the victim and the community.”
Expanding Restorative Justice Options: “The people of Manhattan are best-served when the core drivers of violence are effectively addressed, those willing to work on taking accountability are offered the tools to do so, and all who have suffered harm are offered the resources they need to heal and strengthen their communities. One of the most important ways in which I will accomplish these goals is through the use of restorative justice.”
Improving Reentry Outcomes: “My office will take an active role in cases throughout the reentry process, both because it is essential to ensure public safety and because I believe we owe a moral duty to those sent to prison to help them reenter society.”
Increasing Police Accountability: “Police misconduct can take various forms and can occur both on duty and off duty. […] The tragic deaths of unarmed Black individuals at the hands of the police [..] and the excessive [police] force used against the New Yorkers protesting those killings this past summer [of 2020], underscore the urgent need to address these issues…. Police corruption has plagued the NYPD for decades. … I will provide a digital complaint board for civilians to report acts of police misconduct.”
Fighting Corruption and White Collar Crime: “We must have one standard of justice. We cannot have a system that allows those with power and influence to evade accountability when they commit crimes.”
Safety and Equality for All: “I will be an advocate for LGBTQ+ rights and hold any person who commits hate crimes against LGBTQ+ people accountable.”
Delivering Housing Justice: “I will bring to [the D.A. office] a record of defending tenants against unscrupulous landlords in even the toughest cases.”
Bragg’s 2021 campaign for D.A. received the support of the powerful Democrat multi-billionaire, George Soros, who donated approximately $1 million to the leftwing activist group Color of Change, which in turn diverted donations to support Bragg’s candidacy in New York. Moreover, Soros contributed $50,000 to People’s Action Power and $72,000 to the New York Justice & Public Safety PAC, money that likely aided the Bragg campaign.
Bragg was elected as Manhattan District Attorney on November 2, 2021, winning the general election with over 83% of the vote.
Shortly after his election as DA, Bragg wrote the following in defense of New York State’s bail-reform law which had gone into effect in January 2020:
“All of New York state was governed by the same bail laws from the 1970s until 2020, and under the old bail laws, 43% of people charged with misdemeanors in New York City who had bail set remained in jail until the disposition of their case, including 40% whose bail was set at $500 or less. In April 2019, the New York State legislature recognized the urgent moral, civil rights and human rights issues raised by the use of monetary bail and overhauled the state’s bail laws. The laws went into effect January 2020, and contributed to a 40% decline in New York City’s pretrial jail population. Some District Attorneys and other law enforcement and elected officials resorted to fearmongering, claiming that the reforms contributed to a rise in crime and lobbied for immediate changes to the new law. The data showed otherwise. […] The new bail laws eliminate the use of money bail and pretrial detention for people charged with most misdemeanors and many nonviolent felonies. Unfortunately, the legislature amended this law in April 2020, after only 3 months of the new law being in effect. These changes, which I vocally opposed, went into effect on July 1, 2020. The general framework established by the original bail reform law has not changed, but the amended law adds to the situations in which judges can impose cash bail and pretrial detention. Judges now have more discretion in setting bail and other conditions of pretrial release. Approximately 88% of New York City criminal cases arraigned in 2019 would have been ineligible for either bail or remand under the original bail reform statute. Under the amended law, that number dropped to 84%. The amended law still allows for an estimated 30% reduction in New York City’s jail population when compared to before any bail reform.”
But Bragg’s confidence in the efficacy of bail reform would prove to be egregiously misplaced, as New York City’s rates of homicide and violent crime increased dramatically after the reform went into effect. Emblematic of this trend was an early August 2022 report that, accordiung to statistics compiled by the NYPD, a group of 10 career criminals had been arrested a total of 485 times in NYC since January 2020.
Bragg assumed office on January 1, 2022. Two days later, he issued to his office staff a memo entitled “Achieving Fairness and Safety,” which called for his ambitious “progressive” reforms to be implemented promptly. On the premise that “reserving incarceration for matters involving significant harm will make us safer” (emphasis in original), the memo stipulated that the same offenses enumerated in the Declining and Diverting Minor Offenses section of his campaign platform (cited above) would not be prosecuted.
Bragg’s memo also ordered the following notable policies:
On January 8, 2022 in New York City, Bragg appeared at a National Action Network rally alongside activist Al Sharpton to discuss his (Bragg’s) criminal-justice agenda. “We know that our first civil right is the right to walk safely to our corner store,” said Bragg. “But we also know that safety has got to be based in our community and fairness. It cannot be driven solely by incarceration.” In defense of his tepid approach to punishing criminals, the new D.A. said: “This is going to make us safer. It’s intuitive. It’s common sense. I don’t understand the pushback.”
When asked during a January 2022 interview with Fox News if his policies would “give criminals a green light,” Bragg answered: “No, I mean, it at least depends upon your definition of a criminal. And for all too long we’ve kind of dealt with this othering of anyone we put in jail is a criminal. Well, you know what, we’re putting in jail homeless people who, literally, in one example, used one counterfeit bill to buy food and toothpaste, got a sentence of [several] years. So, if that’s your definition of a criminal, I suggest we need to really reorder ourselves.”
In mid-January 2022, Bragg’s D.A. office downgraded robbery charges which had been filed against William Rolon, a 43-year-old career criminal who on January 8 had robbed a local drugstore of more than $2,000 in merchandise while wielding a knife and causing the store’s female manager to fear for her life. Despite the serious nature of that crime, Bragg’s office reduced the original felony robbery charge to two counts of misdemeanor petit larceny, meaning that there would be no mandatory prison sentence, even though at the time of Rolon’s arrest he was wanted in Brooklyn for failing to appear in court on charges that included felony assault with a weapon. According to the New York Post: “Rolon has a rap sheet that lists more than 20 arrests that date back to 1991 and involve charges of rape, robbery, assault and drug dealing.”
During Bragg’s first full month as D.A., which was also Eric Adams‘ first full month as mayor, crime rates in New York City soared. As PIX11.com reported: “Crime in New York city rose nearly 39% in the first month of 2022. […] Police recorded 9,566 total crimes in January, compared to 6,905 in 2021. Every mayor index increased, with the exception of murder, which fell to 28 total compared to 2021’s 33 in the same period. Shooting incidents, however, were up nearly 32%. […] Transit crime jumped more than 75%, with 198 incidents total. It’s the biggest increase behind grand auto larceny, which accounted for 1,187 total crimes in January — that’s compared to just 620 incidents last year.”
Bragg made headlines with his handling of an early July 2022 case involving Jose Alba, a 61-year-old New York City bodega clerk, who acted in self-defense when he stabbed Austin Simon, an unruly 35-year-old black man who attacked Alba inside the store. Surveillance video of the incident showed Simon’s girlfriend becoming enraged when her payment for a bag of potato chips was declined by a credit-card processing machine. “There’s money on there [the card],” the woman said during a tense back-and-forth exchange with Alba, who, after having tried several times to process the transaction, told her: “It’s not working now.” The woman then screamed, “You fucking piece of shit. I’m gonna bring my nigga down here, and he gonna fuck you up. My nigga is gonna come down here right now and fuck you up!” Alba responded at that point: “That’s not my fault it not working, that’s not my fault it not working. The machine not working, the card not working.”
Shortly thereafter, Mr. Simon entered the store and began yelling obscenities at Alba, who tried to calm the situation by saying, “Papa, papa, I don’t want no problem, papa.” But the raging Simon pushed Alba, hovered over him, and attempted to pull the older man out from his work station. In the face of Simon’s relentless aggression, Alba found an opportunity to take a knife and stab him. Additional video footage, meanwhile, showed Simon’s girlfriend stabbing Alba in the arm.
Simon — who previously had been arrested eight times for crimes that included robbery, assault, and assaulting a police officer — later died of the wounds that Alba had inflicted on him. Bragg’s office, in turn, charged Alba, who had no prior criminal record, with second-degree murder and criminal possession of a weapon. Moreover, Bragg initially sought to impose a a $500,000 bond — later reduced to $50,000 — to keep Alba incarcerated at Rikers Island until his trial. By contrast, no charges were filed against Simon’s girlfriend for the role she had played in the deadly incident.
Noting the injustice with which Bragg’s office was treating Alba, Reason.com wrote on July 11, 2022: “New York Penal Law 35.15 allows that a person may kill in self-defense if ‘the actor reasonably believes that such other person is using or about to use deadly physical force.’ It also mentions that self-defense applies if ‘he or she reasonably believes that such other person is committing or attempting to commit a … robbery.’”
Outraged by the manner in which Bragg handled the Alba-Simon case, a bipartisan coalition of New York City lawmakers sent a letter to the District Attorney in which they wrote: “You are simply rewarding the guilty and punishing the innocent.”
In early August 2022, it was reported that accordiung to statistics compiled by the NYPD, a group of 10 career criminals had been arrested a total of 485 times in New York City since the state’s controversial bail-reform law had gone into effect in January 2020.
Data: Suspects Freed by New York “No Bail” Law Rearrested at Rapid Rates
By John Binder
August 3, 2022