Alvin Bragg made history Tuesday when he was elected the first Black district attorney of Manhattan, defeating Republican opponent Thomas Kenniff.
As noted by the Associated Press, Bragg’s historic election marks a significant change in the position that has been held primarily by white men. As part of his campaign promises, he is looking to shift the way the DA’s office operates by not pursuing low-level offenses and seeking out other ways to deal with what he calls “crimes of poverty.”
Bragg, meanwhile, grew up in Harlem during the 1980s crack cocaine epidemic. At age 15, a police officer stuck a gun in his face and wrongly accused him of being a drug dealer as he walked to buy groceries for his father. Bragg filed a complaint at his parents’ urging, sparking an interest in the law.
He has had a knife held to his throat. As an adult, he opened his home to a brother-in-law just released from prison. Sometimes, Bragg says, the warrant squad would show up looking for the brother-in-law, banging on the door and waking up his children.
Growing up in the inner city, Bragg—a civil rights lawyer with a degree from Harvard University—feels a connection to the community, and hopes that his efforts will affect the people in low-income areas in a positive way.
“Those are my stories, but the important thing is that they are our stories,” Bragg told AP. “They are lots of people’s stories, and I think taking those stories and metaphorically, those people, with me to the D.A.’s office is important in a symbolic way but also deeply meaningful in a very practical way.”
In January when Bragg takes office, he will lead the Manhattan D.A. office’s current investigation into Donald Trump’s tax records. This won’t be Bragg’s first legal encounter with the former president; he helped to shut down Trump’s charity foundation for faulty practices in 2018 during his tenure as a deputy for New York’s Attorney General.
After his victory, Bragg spoke about his experiences as a youth, as well as the flaws in the criminal justice system, CBS2 reports. The issues of violence, and rehabilitation for people struggling with substance abuse, among other things, will be a primary focus for Bragg.
“We have been given a profound trust tonight,” Bragg said. “The fundamental role of the district attorney is to guarantee both fairness and safety. That is the trust has been given to me on the ballot but given to all of us — that’s what we’ve worked for — to show the city and the country a model for pairing partnership, pairing fairness and safety into one.”