One-on-one with Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg about hate crimes and bail reform

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- It was a senseless and unrelenting attack in East Harlem last April.

Yao Pan Ma, 61, was stomped on and murdered by a man cops say was motivated by hate.

Ma, who was collecting cans for money, eventually succumbed to his injuries on New Year's Eve.

That was one day before newly elected Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg would be sworn into office.

For Bragg, who campaigned as a progressive candidate and is perceived by critics as soft on crime, Ma's murder would serve as an early test.

"We upgraded the charges," Bragg said. "Hate crimes tear at the fabric of society. Hate crimes, what is sadly interesting, it is the tie that bonds. In some ways, hate doesn't discriminate."

So the Manhattan DA is expanding the office's Hate Crime Unit to include a full-time staff of lawyers, investigators, and community liaisons.

Bragg says it's the first time this office has devoted this much attention and focus on hate crimes.

"It's really directing the resources to an urgent need," he said. "We've got two senior executives in the office overseeing this, and we've really invested in community relations."

For a DA who has at times been at odds with Mayor Eric Adams and the NYPD, there appears to be no daylight when it comes to hate crimes.

"We should start from a place of investigating as a potential hate crime," Adams said back in February.

"Ruling things out initially is not how we proceed," Bragg said. "We want to be inclusive. We want to be open to all theories."

And in lockstep on gun violence.

"There is a small number of people committing the crimes," Adams said back in March.

"It's a relatively small number of people who are driving a large percentage of the gun violence," Bragg said.

But Bragg splits from Mayor Adams and Governor Hochul on bail reform.

The mayor and governor have pushed for changes to the state's bail reform law.

Bragg isn't budging.

"There's no causation," he said. "The data, there's no causation on violent crime."

Critics will say it is a continuation of his political hedging, but his supporters will say he's finding his footing.

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