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New Manhattan DA walks back decriminalization memo

AP Photo/Craig Ruttle

As soon as new Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg was sworn into office, he sent out a memo to all of his prosecutors instructing them to stop seeking jail time for all but the most serious of crimes. He also provided a list of offenses that his office would not be prosecuting, including resisting arrest, even in cases where police officers might be physically attacked in the process. This announcement was met with a firestorm of criticism coming from almost everyone except the new mayor, who has thus far stuck by him. But the level of pushback against these far-left, progressive policies must have finally gotten to Bragg. On Thursday, he showed up on Fox News and appeared to walk back some of his initial decrees, but he did so in a way that seemed to shift the blame completely away from himself and place it on those who “misunderstood” his instructions and may have been “confused” by them. (National Review)

Manhattan’s new liberal district attorney on Thursday walked back a memo he sent to staff earlier this month calling for the “decriminalization/non prosecution” of crimes including marijuana possession, turnstile jumping, trespassing, resisting arrest, interfering with an arrest and prostitution.

“I understand why those who read my memo of January 3rd have been left with the wrong impression about how I will enforce New York’s laws,” DA Alvin Bragg said, according to Fox News’s Jacqui Heinrich. “I take full accountability for that confusion caused.”

He continued: “First, the purpose of the memo is to provide prosecutors with a framework for how to approach cases in the best interest of safety and justice. Each case is fact specific.”

One of the big changes after less than a month in office is that Bragg now claims that all robberies involving a gun will be treated as felonies. “Any use of a gun to rob a store by definition is and must be and will be treated seriously,” he said.

He also claimed that resisting arrest was not actually going to be decriminalized if a suspect lays a hand on a cop. “If you push or hit an officer or attempt to do so or attempt to harm an officer in another way, you will be prosecuted, held accountable.”

That all sounds great, but this was not a case of his memo “causing confusion.” Those things are precisely what he put in the memo and he’s now apparently claiming that he meant the opposite. Further, the prosecutions that have already taken place since he was put in charge show that prosecutors (at least the ones who haven’t quit, which number in the dozens) were following his orders.

Take, for example, his claim that anyone using a gun to rob a store would be hit with a felony. Barely a week into his tenure, Christian Hall was arrested for armed robbery at a T.J. Maxx using a gun. Bragg’s prosecutors dropped any mention of the weapon from their report and lowered the charges against Hall to shoplifting. That happened despite the man having 21 previous arrests, including one for assault with a deadly weapon. A few other examples have already shown up.

I suspect that what’s going on here is that Bragg was beginning to see the writing on the wall. Having the new Police Chief come out and accuse him of putting the lives of NYPD officers in jeopardy was a very bad headline to have to swallow. And he’s also obviously been made aware of the growing calls to remove him from office.

Sadly, New York State laws make the process of removing him a difficult, time-consuming task. Perhaps Bragg is looking to buy himself some time to salvage his career by at least looking like he’s actually doing the job he was elected for. If he mends his ways and really starts prosecuting criminals in a normal fashion, perhaps he can earn a second chance. But I won’t be holding my breath while waiting to see if it happens.