Today, December 3, 2021, Alvin Bragg, Manhattan District Attorney-Elect, spoke at the 176th CityLaw Breakfast. Professor Ross Sandler, Director of the Center for New York City Law provided opening remarks. President and Dean of New York Law School Anthony W. Crowell held a conversation with District Attorney-Elect Bragg. This Breakfast was sponsored by ConEdison, Greenberg Traurig, and Verizon, and co-sponsored by the Wilf Impact Center for Public Interest Law and the Criminal Justice Institute. This was the tenth virtual CityLaw Breakfast as in-person events are not feasible at this time due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
District Attorney-Elect Bragg started his talk by discussing past CityLaw Breakfasts and brought him to New York Law School, where he has served as a professor for criminal law and criminal procedure for the past few years. He discussed how New York Law School’s interdisciplinary approach for teaching legal issues reflects how we should approach criminal justice and civil rights issues.
According to District Attorney-Elect Bragg, having different camps of lawyers address criminal justice and civil rights issues is the wrong approach, as it is important to maintain public safety without overstepping on constitutional rights. He described past encounters where he had weapons drawn on him both through unconstitutional searches by police and through private citizens while they were committing crimes. He believes fairness and trust in the system are essential. He talked about his experience representing Ms. Carr, Eric Gardner’s mother, in the case seeking transparency from the City about his death.
District Attorney-Elect Bragg highlighted the importance of reforming the criminal justice system by listening and learning from the experiences of both the survivors of violence and the people who have had to go through the system.
When he takes office, District Attorney-Elect Bragg considers two issues as “Day 1” issues; guns and Rikers Island. He discussed the increase in gun violence in the city, especially in Upper Manhattan. He believes in accountability through bringing cases and using restorative justice practices, and from learning from past mistakes. He highlighted the example of how Stop and Frisk only resulted in .1 percent of convictions for gun charges, but resulted in a disproportionate impact on certain communities. District Attorney-Elect Bragg wants to learn from research and data, use investments in communities, and to find where guns are coming from as some of many ways to address gun violence.
As for Rikers Island, Mr. Bragg believes the awful living conditions and practices need to be addressed, in addition to why Manhattan sends a higher proportion of people to Rikers over other boroughs. He asked the audience to think about other ways we can avoid sending people to jail, including pre-trial releases. He said that “all too often we forget the positive” that pretrial releases can lead to, and that when we support people it reduces recidivism.
Mr. Bragg ended his talk by discussing what it meant to him to be the first African American District Attorney for Manhattan. He took several questions from the audience about a variety of topics from gangs, misinformation about bail reform, to music.
Dean Crowell and District Attorney-Elect had a closing discussion about law schools, approaches to teaching, and how to build a new prosecutor.
To watch the breakfast, click here or watch below.