All eyes on Black prosecutors probing Trump (and their safety) amid looming indictment

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg is one of three African-American prosecutors who is seeking to hold Trump accountable through the legal system. 

As many await with bated breath whether former President Donald Trump will be indicted in a $130,000 payoff probe in New York, all eyes are on Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg — a Black man — who Trump recently called “racist” amid the looming charges. 

Bragg, the first Black person in history to run the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, could become the first prosecutor in history to charge with a crime a former U.S. president; a former U.S. president who is seeking another term; and a U.S. presidential candidate. He has already successfully prosecuted Trump’s businesses in a separate case related to criminal tax fraud. 

More broadly, Bragg is one of three African-American prosecutors seeking to hold Trump accountable through the legal system. 

(Left to right) Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg and New York Attorney General Letitia James are all involved in legal matters concerning former President Donald Trump or his company. (Photo: Getty Images)

In Georgia, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is continuing her criminal probe of Trump and his involvement in trying to overturn the 2020 presidential election in her majority-Black district. A decision from Willis, who is reportedly considering racketeering and conspiracy charges, could come as soon as this spring.

Meanwhile, in a civil case in New York, Attorney General Letitia James charged the Trump Organization with financial fraud and is moving to bar Trump and three of his adult children from doing business in the state. 

Trump has described each prosecutor as racist and at least one of them has had to contact the FBI because of “security concerns.”

The safety of Black prosecutors is a legitimate concern, according to political experts and members of Congress.

Christina M. Greer, associate professor of political science at Fordham University, told theGrio that Black electeds “always have to worry about safety,” reiterating the fact that America has “a history of Black political leaders being harmed, sometimes fatally.”

After Trump called on his supporters to “protest” and “take our nation back” in anticipation of the potential criminal charges, Bragg sent a letter to prosecutors in his office to assure them that law enforcement was working to ensure their safety. 

Former President Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC 2023) on March 4, 2023 at National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

Greer said she hopes that the New York Police Department and “other coordinating security forces” are taking threats made against Bragg and his office seriously. The political analyst noted that Trump supporters have a history of being violent, evidenced by the deadly 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and most notably, the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection in Washington, D.C.

Anthony Coley, a legal analyst and former director of public affairs at the Department of Justice, told theGrio that Trump’s “incendiary” rhetoric is “designed to intimidate prosecutors” and potentially poison the jury pool.” More important, he said, it endangers “the lives of the men and women who are simply seeking justice.”

Coley recalled an incident in Ohio last summer when a Trump supporter called for FBI agents to be killed after the former president’s Mar-a-Lago home was searched for his possession of classified documents. The gunman was killed in a shootout while trying to breach FBI offices in Cincinnati.

“There are very, very small-minded supporters of Trump that will see this prosecution as persecution and will heed his call to protest or do something which could lead to someone being hurt and/or killed,” U.S. Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y., told theGrio. “Trump doesn’t care” about the potential harm he could cause by rallying his base of supporters.

U.S. Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett, who served as an impeachment manager in Trump’s second impeachment trial in 2021, acknowledged the threats made against her and fellow Democrats in the House of Representatives — including Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., who led the House probe into Trump’s involvement in the Jan. 6 riot — for speaking out against Trump and Republicans in Congress.

A supporter of President Donald Trump holds a Trump 2020 flag during a rally on Nov. 14, 2020, outside the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

“All of us get threats on a regular basis, but we’ve decided that we are going to uphold the law and that our country is worth it,” said the delegate for the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Plaskett said Trump going after James, Willis, and — most recently — Bragg speaks to his “white fragility” and “white privilege.”

She added, “He doesn’t believe that a Black person should be in a position to question him.” 

Regarding the significance of the ethnic background of three of several prosecutors investigating Trump, Bowman said he sees it as “poetic justice” that a Black person is leading the indictment and “hopefully the conviction and accountability [for] Trump’s behavior.”

The congressman said, “America needs a reckoning and Trump is central to that reckoning and his accountability is central to that reckoning.”

Several told theGrio that they see Bragg’s looming indictment of Trump — and the potential others to follow — as an ironic reflection of the criminal justice system. 

Coley, who counseled U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland on communications in his previous post, said, “there is a deep and abiding sense in Black America that there are two systems of justice: one for the rich and the powerful, and another one for everyone else.”

He continued, “That’s why I think so many African Americans are following these Trump cases so closely — [because] accountability finally appears to be at hand.”

Democratic strategist Alencia Johnson says there’s likely an understanding among Bragg, James and Willis as Black elected legal officials about their responsibility to hold Trump accountable for not just the harms he’s done to “our communities” but the fact that he thinks that he’s above the law.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg on Dec. 6, 2022, in the courtroom during the Trump Organization tax fraud trial at the New York Supreme Court in New York City. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

“Black people, at times, we are the ones that are actually trying to protect democracy,” Johnson told theGrio. “Even when democracy functions, we are still getting the bread crumbs, but we have such a responsibility to make sure that those in power are not abusing power.”

It goes without saying that the indictment of a former U.S. president is unprecedented. In this case, it could lead Trump supporters to engage in violent protests like the Jan. 6 insurrection and Charlottesville riot.

Greer sees a connection between the violent protests and Trump’s “racially coded language” in his speech about Black prosecutors like Bragg, James and Willis. “He uses racist language because in the same breath that he’s saying this is reverse racism … he’s also telling his supporters, I want you to go to the streets and protest,” said Greer, who noted that Trump voters carried racist symbols like confederate flags and swastikas while taking to the streets.

She continued, “Donald Trump has always — especially since he’s been president and post-president — used this type of language whenever he has to talk about a person of color that he doesn’t like, but especially when it comes to Black people.”

Del. Stacey Plaskett, D-Virgin Islands, speaks during a news conference with fellow New Democrat Coalition members on May 19, 2021, outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Plaskett served as an impeachment manager in Trump’s second impeachment trial in February 2021. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Plaskett said Trump’s injecting race into cases that ultimately have nothing to do with race is his attempt to “draw attention to the fact that these are Black people that are … trying to bring a white man to justice.”

The former New York prosecutor added, “It’s not really a dog whistle. It’s just straight up trying to call a clarion call to individuals who are, in fact, racist. To remind them of that.”

Johnson said Trump’s focus on Bragg’s race is part of a broader pattern of behavior toward any Black person he sees as his political enemy. “This is another attack on a Black person in power in the same way we saw him go after Black journalists, Black lawmakers, and now he’s going after Black attorneys as well.”   

Coley said that while Trump uses “race, racist language and racist overtones to divide people,” the focus for Bragg and the other prosecutors probing the former president should be about the rule of law.

“Alvin Bragg’s one and only charge is to pursue justice without fear or favor and he has to remain focused on that mission and that mission alone,” he said.

Gerren Keith Gaynor

Gerren Keith Gaynor is the Managing Editor of Politics and White House Correspondent at theGrio. He is based in Washington, D.C.

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