Manhattan’s New DA Speaks
The future of the investigation into the assassination of civil rights leader Malcolm X will be in the hands of Alvin Bragg, the first Black man elected to the Manhattan District Attorney’s office.
“I watched the documentary; I spoke to the family as someone who’s a Harlem resident, and a student of the civil rights movement, I know the significance of the matter,” said Bragg who takes office in January. “It is important to do these looks back. Some will say, ‘Oh well that was so long ago, ‘but the wounds remain, and it is so important to address the wrongs and set the record right and not just in these high-profile matters, it means a lot obviously here, but across the board it is important.”
News broke the morning Bragg appeared on the New York State Bar Association’s ‘Miranda Warnings’ podcast that incumbent Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance would seek to exonerate Muhammad Aziz, and Khalil Islam, who both served more than 20 years in prison for the murder of Malcom X, though they insisted that they were innocent.
Vance announced the move after an investigation with the Innocence Project revealed that law enforcement officials withheld evidence that benefited the defense. The departing DA began the initial investigation that exonerated the pair two years ago after the Netflix documentary “Who Killed Malcolm X” garnered worldwide interest.
Asked whether he thought there might be room to expand the investigation, Bragg noted the importance of the work that Vance’s office already accomplished. He also pointed out that finding justice past the exoneration of Aziz and Islam may be difficult as Vance told reporters that the investigation was hampered by the amount of time that has lapsed since the assassination.
“Our search for the truth was severely impacted by the passage of time. In the decades since the tragic afternoon at the Audubon Ballroom, every police investigator and trial attorney on the case has died,” said Vance at a press conference announcing the exonerations. “In a case that rested entirely on eyewitness testimony, every single eyewitness that testified at trial, has died. All of the physical evidence, including the shotgun used in the murder, is gone. No telephone records were obtained at the time, and there is no way to get them now.”
It will be up to Bragg to determine if there is a way forward. But it won’t be the only high-profile case on his plate. Bragg will also take up the DA’s office’s ongoing investigation into the Trump organization
Another challenge facing Bragg, an outspoken proponent of police accountability and ran on ending enforcement of a host of low-level crimes, is newly elected Mayor Eric Adams. Adams, who served on the New York Police Department for 22 years, ran on a law-and-order platform during his successful mayoral campaign, and has indicated he wants to tweak bail reform legislation to give judges more discretion in deciding which offenders should be jailed before trial.
Asked by Miranda about Adams’ comments that bail reform is allowing “extremely dangerous” people to be “released the next day,” and that he would like to change the law, Bragg responded that he would like to work with Adams on improving the law, adding: “I really want to listen to ways in which he wants to improve it,” said Bragg.
Bragg said that he has already found common ground with Adams and hopes to expand on that as the incoming elected officials prepare to take office.
“We met for the first time this year … and he talks a lot about his early experience with the police and the way he was treated as a driver. I talked a lot about my early experience with the police and how that informed my decision to become a prosecutor. We’ve obviously both worked on cases involving public safety but also care deeply about fairness and police accountability, he’s also talked a lot about the front-end equation—diversion investment, investment for education, about the rate of dyslexia of those who are in Rikers. There’s a lot of common ground.”
To hear more about Bragg’s plans to address gun violence, revamping the sexual assault crimes unit and his thoughts on “Defund the Police,” check out the first episode of the latest season of Miranda Warnings streaming on all major podcast platforms including Apple Music and Spotify.