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Nearly a decade of relentless progressive alterations to the criminal justice system in New York City may have finally reached their nadir with November’s election of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg, Jr.
Last week, the newly-minted D.A., who made history as the first African-American elected to the post, issued a 10-page memorandum to his staff that essentially dismantles the penal code in New York.
It hews to the progressive prosecutor movement’s goals of emptying prisons and transforming the justice system into one less punitive. Running counter to recently-elected New York City Mayor Eric Adams’s pledge to reduce the rise of violent crime, Bragg vows not to prosecute fare evasion, trespassing, and resisting arrest. Criminals, take note.
By declining to prosecute violations of law, Bragg has weaponized prosecutorial discretion, contorting its purpose in a hapless quest for social justice. This approach only serves to further injure the very communities to whom Bragg is pandering. Minority communities in New York City–and urban areas across the nation–want the criminal plague removed from their midst. In August of 2020, at the height of the Black Lives Movement protests, a Gallup poll determined that 81 percent of African-Americans want the same, or more, police presence in their neighborhoods.
An analysis of the murder wave in 2020, conducted by The Marshall Project, determined that minority communities were the hardest hit, with 85 percent of the homicide increase located in communities of color. The “solution” to this surge? Well, Alvin Bragg’s progressive prosecutor colleagues in Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco feel they have the answers. And yet, “defund the police,” bail reform, and de-policing efforts haven’t been wildly successful in cities where politicians imposed them. We’re about to witness the natural course-correction of dangerous overreach in New York City. It began just days after Bragg’s memo was made public.
NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell fired an email off to her cops that excoriated the D.A.’s plans. She cited a fifty-nine percent increase in “quality of life” complaints to the City’s 311 information line and expressed disquietude that “[i]n addition to gun possession, I am concerned that pretrial incarceration will no longer be sought for charges such as terrorism, criminal sale of a firearm, gun-point robberies … and other serious violent felonies.” Bragg defended his positions at a rally held by Al Sharpton, arguing with straight face that he did not understand the pushback. Even fellow D.A.s in New York City take exception to Bragg’s misguided ideological approach.
This “soft on crime” approach has been attempted before. Just ask any New York City resident old enough to recall the criminal heyday during the 1970s and 1980s. It can be argued that New York was simply broke and lacked the necessary resources to police throughout those decades. However, it took a tougher application of policing during the ensuing 1990s and 2000s to engineer the City’s complete turnaround. Yes, policies matter. Sound policies contribute mightily to deterrence and act as a societal insurance policy, ensuring public safety for all. So how did we get to this place? And will New Yorkers continue to tolerate having their cops handcuffed?
The first sign of fissures in New York City’s hard-earned law and order image became obvious during Bill de Blasio’s 2013 mayoral campaign; predicated on complete dismantlement of the New York City Police Department’s “Broken Windows” crime-reduction successes. De Blasio has now spent the past eight years steadily limiting effective tactrics like “Stop, Question, and Frisk” and disbanding the wildly successful Anti-Crime Unit, efforts begun under former Mayor Rudy Giuliani and his NYPD Commissioner William J. Bratton. Giuliani’s successor Michael Bloomberg, continued the successful policies that had earned New York the title of “America’s safest big city.” Yet, at his 2014 inauguration, de Blasio gloated: “Make no mistake: The people of this city have chosen a progressive path, and tonight we set forth on it, together.” Here we are.
This “progressive path” has destroyed the proud city I served as a “street agent” in the FBI’s New York City Office between 1991 and 2016. The City’s homicide zenith of 2,245 victims was tallied in 1990, the year before I arrived. In the two and a half decades that followed, the NYPD’s efforts had driven murders down to under 300. The NYPD’s proactive policing methods, coupled with New York City prosecutors who were focused on charging crimes and seeking to imprison dangerous criminals helped transform the Big Apple into a tourist mecca, an inviolable hub of safety, security, and resiliency. Political leaders had the courage to confront the policy extremism now proudly on display in the Manhattan D.A.’s Office. Not anymore.
Of course, this irresponsible “reimagining” of criminal justice in New York did not happen overnight. Policy impact on crime evolves slowly, taking time to completely manifest itself. Criminals have to learn where the line exists before they can adjust. Permissive, indifferent-to-crime environments–as “Broken Windows” warns–tend to encourage more criminality. The revolving-door recidivism stoked by Bragg’s style of discretionary enforcement and New York State’s poorly-conceived “bail reform” laws will continue to make New York City less safe.
Even the social justice warriors in New York City will tire of the city being victimized. They’ll have their say at the polling place. As the old proverb goes: tread on a worm, and even it will turn.