Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said during a Saturday appearance at the National Action Network Rally in New York with Rev. Al Sharpton that he does not see why his move to reduce mass incarceration through lessened prison sentences and fewer arrests was not well received.
Brag had announced earlier this week, just days after taking office, that he would not prosecute a number of crimes, including misdemeanor marijuana charges, trespassing with the exception of a fourth-degree stalking charge, resisting arrest, dodging subway and bus fares and prostitution. He would instead prioritize "diversion and alternatives to incarceration."
Exceptions to his new plan for no jail time include murder, crimes involving death and felonies. Armed robbery and a number of other serious crimes are being reduced to misdemeanors. Bragg also indicated that he would look to limit sentences to just 20 years, even in cases of murder convictions.
Bragg said during his Saturday remarks that "our first civil right is the right to walk safely to our corner store" but that such safety measures must "be based in our community and fairness. It cannot be driven solely by incarceration."
"We need investment in our neighborhoods, and we do need to address our significant safety concerns," Bragg said, noting that his position has been misconstrued. "So that's what we set out to do. That's what we started to do this week. And I thank Rev. Sharpton for his invitation because there have been, let me just say, some misunderstandings."
And while he does desire a reduction in incarceration rates, Bragg does acknowledge the city's rise in violent crime.
"Gun crime is on the rise. Domestic violence is on the rise. We've got sexual assault," Bragg said. "That's what was going on with the status quo. So we know we need a change to address that. And the way to do that is partner with traditional public safety methods, is to invest in our communities. Racial disparity’s rife in our system. We criminalize poverty every day of the week."
Still, Bragg was puzzled at recent criticisms of his plans to reduce sentencing, claiming that his approach "is going to make us safer."
"It's intuitive. It's common sense. I don't understand the pushback," he said.
Bragg, noting his own past experiences with gun crime, stressed that he is not ignorant when it comes to firearms.
"I've had a semi-automatic weapon pointed at my head. I've been shot. And just late last year I had walked to a crime scene with more than 20 shell casings on the ground with my two young children just to get home," Bragg told the audience. "So don't tell me about guns. I know about guns, and I know from my work to you all day."
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