NEW YORK — The images were seared in the conscience of a nation: videos shot on cellphones capturing encounters of unarmed civilians with police, some of which resulted in death.
It has been one year since Eric Garner's life ended at the hands of NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo. The incident was ruled a homicide, but a grand jury decided not to indict the officer.
The deaths of Ramarley Graham, Michael Brown, Akai Gurley and Freddie Gray all sparked a conversation about race in America. Gov. Andrew Cuomo admitted on the PIX11 Morning News that there was a real problem regarding trust in the system, going as far as calling it a "crisis."
Cuomo therefore signed an executive order, appointing a special prosecutor at the Attorney General's office to handle cases involved unarmed civilians killed by police. The Attorney General Eric Schneiderman formed a new unit to handle these cases led by Alvin Bragg, an experienced prosecutor and a former assistant U.S. attorney.
"It's a real crisis in confidence," Bragg told PIX11 News.
In an exclusive sit-down interview, Bragg described what his role will be and how he will restore trust to those who have already lost it.
"These interactions can go awry sometimes and there are things that happen that just shouldn't happen," Bragg said.
Bragg is a born and bred New Yorker, having grown up in Harlem during the 1970s and '80s. He described what life was like growing up as an African-American man in that neighborhood.
" I had street encounters which involved stop and frisks, pat downs that were beyond the scope of what the law allows," Bragg said. "Some of them were horrific, stopped at gunpoint by multiple officers, and I was doing nothing wrong. "
In the same breath, Bragg credits police for making the streets safe, working with them as he moved up the ranks.
"I have seen some of the best the country has to offer," Bragg said.
However, it is that partnership that the Garner family has issue with, saying that a district attorney works too close with police and there is "a lot of favoritism."
So, we addressed these concerns with Bragg during the interview:
PIX11 News: Do you think there is an inherent problem with the system - district attorney's being too close to the local police departments?
Bragg: I think it's a fair question to ask. Can the system operate when you have law enforcement and prosecutors who work together on a day to day basis. That is the fix here - a special prosecutor.
PIX11 News: The Governor has said first and foremost, and I want to quote him, " that the criminal justice system doesn't work without trust." How do you plan on restoring trust to those who have already lost it.
Bragg: To treat it the way we have treated all cases, to follow the facts in an independent, fair manner and follow them wherever they lead or don't lead.
There has been opposition to this unit from the local district attorneys and the police unions. The PBA said in a statement to PIX11 that "our concern is that there will be pressure on a special prosecutor to indict an officer for the sake of public perception and that does not serve the ends of justice."
PIX11 News: The PBA says this is pandering to public pressure - your thoughts on that?
Bragg: I have never pandered to anyone. I will follow the facts and do that without fear or favor. So, public pressure from anyone is not going to influence this unit.
The Garner family was at the signing of the executive ordered are thrilled the governor heard their concerns.
Bragg wouldn't comment on the handling of the Garner case, saying that is in the past and he wants to focus on any future cases. However, he hopes it never has to come to use since that would mean someone's life was taken too soon.