Apparently, enough rhetorical whacks upside the head with a two-by-four can eventually drive the message home to anyone, even Manhattan’s new soft-on-crime District Attorney Alvin Bragg. Or at least that’s the hope this week anyway. The New York Daily News reports – with an unmistakable sigh of relief – that Bragg has now issued yet another “clarification” to his prosecutors as to how they should proceed with processing crimes in the city. It’s worth noting that the Daily News is actually one of the more liberal outlets in Gotham, particularly as compared to the New York Post, but even they had grown frustrated and annoyed with Bragg over his criminal-friendly policies. The highlight of Bragg’s latest walk-back is the claim that people committing armed robbery of any sort will be sent to jail rather than having their charges massively downgraded and shoved back through the revolving door.
After spending a month trying to convince New York that many pieces of his day one memo didn’t say what we could plainly see it said — insisting it was merely confusing and legalistic, not actually going easy on armed robbers and gun-toters and people arrested for assaulting cops — Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg Friday released new guidance to his prosecutors that purportedly supersedes some big mistakes made in the Jan. 3 document. Now we’re getting somewhere.
The initial policy statement said three types of felony armed and forcible robbery would be downgraded to petty larceny, a misdemeanor that typically applies to those who nonviolently swipe stuff off store shelves, “if the force or threat of force consists of displaying a dangerous instrument or similar behavior but does not create a genuine risk of physical harm.” When we read it, we didn’t get it. Was a robber wielding an unloaded or painted-black toy gun basically off the hook? What if a firearm was loaded but never pointed? After Bragg’s Jan. 20 speech seeking to reset the conversation, we asked him to explain and got an unsatisfying answer.
Bragg is still doing some verbal dancing here and trying to pretend that people just didn’t fully understand his original January 3rd memo where he clearly said that nobody but the worst of the worst would ever see any jail time on his watch. I particularly enjoyed how the Daily News described the original memo as having said, “what we could plainly see it said.”
The big change this week is that the new memo to Manhattan prosecutors declares that any commercial robbery with a gun “will be charged as a felony, whether or not the gun is operable, loaded, or a realistic imitation.” It also says that any armed robbery where a knife is displayed will be similarly charged as a felony.
Perhaps even more hopeful is the message saying “we will prosecute any person who harms or attempts to harm a police officer.” That’s a pretty significant “correction” from the original memo which said that prosecutors were never supposed to charge suspects “just for” resisting arrest, even if they physically attack a cop. The major shortcoming in the new memo is that Bragg is still not walking back his promise to eliminate pre-trial jail and post-conviction prison sentences for many other serious crimes. If we’re fortunate, perhaps that will be included in the next correction to the correction to the correction of the original memo.
So what was it that brought Bragg at least partially around to seeing the light? I doubt he cares overly much about his press coverage. Maybe it was the Governor’s private meeting with him where she reminded him that she has the power to remove him from office if he fails to perform his duties. No matter the cause, I will agree with the Daily News that this is at least a sign of progress. Now we’ll wait to see if he carries through with these changes.