Law enforcement, political leaders, and media outlets have seized the story of an assault on a police officer to baselessly link the incident to New York’s bail reform laws.
Law enforcement, political leaders, and media outlets have seized the story of an assault on a police officer in Times Square to baselessly and disingenuously link the incident to New York’s bail reform laws.
Not only does the case have nothing to do with bail reform, but the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office has been transparent in its challenge of identifying the people responsible and their relative levels of culpability. While District Attorney Alvin Bragg – backed by Mayor Eric Adams – noted the importance of not sending innocent people to jail, other leaders continue to call for indefinite pretrial detention for anyone allegedly involved in the case.
Everyone arrested for the incident was charged with Assault in the Second Degree, a bail-eligible felony that was not affected by bail reform.
The prosecutor, based on the available evidence, decided to ask for bail on the person identified as the most culpable. The judge — a lifelong prosecutor— set bail. Another person was released under supervision after the judge found he could be a potential flight risk. Bail reform had nothing to do with the prosecutor’s decision to ask for bail for some people arrested in the case but not others.
The law also allows a judge, using their discretion, to set bail even when the prosecution does not request it. This judge, who spent over a decade as an Assistant District Attorney, decided to not use her discretion to set bail in this case.
These facts are obvious and irrefutable. Still, law enforcement and political leaders sought to use this incident to push for their carceral agenda and create division through xenophobia and fear. NYPD chief of patrol John Chell peddled a common lie – that the purpose of bail is to punish people. Since the dawn of the criminal legal system, the purpose of bail has been to ensure someone’s return to court, not to “punish” people who are legally innocent.
Meanwhile, media outlets erroneously tied the incident to bail reform laws and raised the possibility that politicians will once again rethink the laws – which have already been rolled back three times. ABC wrote “bail laws questioned” in its headline about the incident, while City & State reported the incident “led to widespread criticism and renewed scrutiny of the 2019 law” without providing any evidence to back up the claim. Such baseless comments cause the public to continue to believe that bail reform is something to fear, instead of a total policy success.
The outcry in this case is about the people arrested not being held indefinitely in jail. But law enforcement has made it clear that they are not confident they have arrested the people allegedly responsible for the attack, nor established everyone’s relative culpability.
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg clearly stated that he wants to be confident that law enforcement has positively identified the person believed to have committed the crime before putting that person in jail. That is not a radical position. It is, as he says, the bedrock principle of our criminal legal system. One person who was initially arrested has already had their case dismissed due to lack of evidence. This is not uncommon – nearly half of felony arrests in New York result in dismissals or acquittals.
Moreover, the surveillance video shared by the NYPD is grainy; anyone who has actually watched the video would be hard-pressed to find many identifiable features on any of the people allegedly involved in the assault.
Bragg’s position—that only the people responsible for the crime should be punished for that crime—is being absurdly attacked by Democrats like Governor Hochul and New York Attorney General Letitia James. Saying the people who were arrested should be in jail without knowing the evidence is irresponsible, reckless, and antithetical to the principles of the criminal legal system.