For 20 years, I have dedicated my life to keeping New Yorkers safe and ensuring that all my neighbors are treated fairly by our justice system.
I’ve prosecuted people who caused serious harm, and removed those individuals from the community to keep our families safe. And as a son of Harlem, I’ve also seen the profound harm that results from over-reliance on policing and prosecution—the families needlessly separated, the wasted human potential, and the broken trust between communities and law enforcement that makes successful prosecutions of serious violence vastly more difficult.
I know these issues personally and professionally. Growing up in Harlem, I had a knife to my neck, a semiautomatic gun to my head, and a homicide victim on my doorstep. I never want anyone to experience this trauma. That’s part of why I became a prosecutor and did armed robbery and assault cases.
I was elected Manhattan district attorney to deliver safety and justice for all. The two goals of justice and safety are not opposed to each other. They are inextricably linked. We deserve and demand both, and that has been the focus of my career, and indeed, my life.
So let me be clear: safety is paramount. My mission as district attorney is keeping every single person in Manhattan safe. Your No. 1 civil right is to walk around your neighborhood and ride the subway without fear. No New Yorker should walk our streets in fear of an assault or robbery.
In particular, guns will be a priority of my administration. We have lost too many loved ones to gun violence in this city. We need to hold accountable those who carry guns, and we also need to focus resources on tracing where illegal guns came from so we can go after the traffickers who profit from the sale of deadly weapons.
We will also increase our long-term investigations that directly address street crime: human trafficking, gun trafficking, and drug trafficking. We will ramp up money-laundering and white collar crimes that finance violent crime. Following the contraband and following the money lead us to the most culpable people. Holding these people accountable is key to disrupting criminal enterprises and will lead to significant public safety benefits.
Let me also be crystal clear that there is a lot more to keeping us safe than incarceration. Every person who breaks the law must be held accountable, but accountability does not always mean incarceration.
We must work to earn the trust of the community. We know we lose the community’s trust if people who commit shootings or sexual assaults are not held accountable. But we also lose the community’s trust when they see us throwing the book at someone who just needs a job, or drug treatment, or mental health treatment.
We will invest more in diversion and alternatives to incarceration: well-designed initiatives that support and stabilize people—particularly individuals in crisis and youth—can conserve resources, reduce re-offending, and diminish the collateral harms of criminal prosecution. Studies also indicate that incarceration, in and of itself, can create public safety risks.
And we will actively support those reentering; supporting those returning to community and helping them overcome barriers to housing and health care reduces recidivism and thereby makes communities safer.
These policy changes not only will, in and of themselves, make us safer, they also will free up prosecutorial resources to focus on violent crime. It will also allow my office to work closely with Mayor Adams and other agencies to invest in services for the mentally ill people on the streets, including supportive housing, and ensuring the seriously mentally ill folks receive the help they need.
Incarceration is one tool in our toolbox. We, of course, will use that tool. But we must be smart about how we target our prosecutions, and when prosecution isn’t going to make us safer, and make sure we’re providing resources to address people’s needs so they don’t cycle through the system time and again.
That is how we improve public safety and make our justice system fairer.
Alvin Bragg Jr. is the New York County district attorney, the first African American elected to serve that office.