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New Day

New York City D.A. Joins New Day On Refusal To Prosecute Non- Violent Crimes; Justices To Hear Biden's Vaccine Mandate Case For Employers; Massachusetts National Guard Helps Hospitals Facing Critical Staff Shortages. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired January 07, 2022 - 07:30   ET




JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Manhattan's new district attorney facing backlash his first week on the job. Alvin Bragg is pushing new guidelines aimed at reducing incarceration by ending prosecution of low-level crimes. He told his staff not to prosecute things like marijuana misdemeanors, fare evasion, resisting arrest, and prostitution.

Bragg, who is Manhattan's first Black district attorney, says his plan will not only make New Yorkers safer but also, quote, "free up prosecutorial resources to focus on violent crime.

District Attorney Alvin Bragg joins me now. Thank you so much for being with us because I want to hear your explanations for these things.

Fare evasion is when you don't pay to get on the subway. So my question for you is if you're not going to prosecute fare evasion why should I pay a subway fare?


ALVIN BRAGG, MANHATTAN DISTRICT ATTORNEY (via Skype): So, I was elected to deliver safety and justice for all. I've seen every side of the criminal justice system. You know, what we're going now is not working.

Let me give you an example. I don't know if you're a driver but if you've got an E-ZPass and you go through the -- through the -- through the toll, they don't stop you and arrest you there. What they do is they send you a summons. They send you a letter. They send you a ticket. That's what we need to do on fare evasion.

We need to be directing our prosecutorial resources to our uptick in gun violence. So the thesis is clear. The status quo is not working and we have significant public safety issues. So we need to be focusing our resources on guns and sexual assaults, not on fare evading (ph).

BERMAN: Well, what about stealing a banana from a shop? If you're not going to prosecute stealing a banana, why should I pay for a banana?

BRAGG: Right. Well, look, I don't -- I don't want to personalize it as to you but I am going to assume that you don't have a significant -- you know, a poverty issue, right?

Many of these cases are not driven by someone who just wants the banana to just flout the rules. They're driven by addiction. They're driven by mental health issues. They're driven by poverty. So what we're going to do is link people to the services they need so that we can put an end.

We're already arresting people for the banana. What happens? They then go into pretrial detention or they are caught up in the system so to speak, and it happens over and over and over again. Why not, I ask and we're going to do, get that person what they need so we can get them out of the system so we can focus on things like guns and sexual assaults?

This is both humane and fair. We'll get people the services they need and it's going to make us safer because they're not going to keep cycling in and out of the system. And we'll have more ban with (ph) to do guns and sexual assaults.

The research is clear and I've lived this. And so, I know from my personal life, and from the research, and from my prosecution experience this is going to make us safer.

BERMAN: What should be the goal here -- reducing incarceration or reducing crime?

BRAGG: Oh, but that's a -- that's a -- that's a fiction. That's a false dichotomy.

We have had periods right here in Manhattan where we've reduced incarceration and crime. That's the goal. They're inextricably linked. I can tell you as a -- as a prosecutor they go hand in hand. I can tell you as someone who has lived his life in Harlem facing both public safety and fairness challenges.

So the goal is both and that's what we're going to deliver on.

BERMAN: Listen, I'm pressing you on this because these are the questions that are being asked this morning, I think, when people see the headlines on what you're doing here.

And you know there is a mythology created around some of the policies that have been in New York City in the past. The broken windows policies under Rudy Giuliani where the theory was if you go after the small crimes it creates -- it helps prevent the big crimes.

Why do you think that's wrong?

BRAGG: Right. Well look, let's look at actually what those scholars actually said. They did a lookback about 10 years later -- the living author -- and said we said there should not be disorder. That is there's a broken window we need to fix it. What we did not say, the author said, is that we should incarcerate the kid who threw the rock.

We can call the Department of Buildings. We can call other services. So, I've been in government for more than 20-plus years delivering safety and justice as a prosecutor and using the full spectrum of government resources.

So, yes, we don't -- we don't want broken windows. We don't -- we do not want disorder. But there's so many ranges of services that we can provide to really address it.

Look at the status quo. We've been doing this for years and we've got an uptick in gun violence, we've got an increase in incarceration. We've got domestic violence on the rise. What we're doing right now is not working.

And you talk about mythology -- that's generous. What we have is people who are misrepresenting what I have said and coming forth with no plan other than that which is not working. So I want to get rid of the gun uptick. I want to reduce domestic violence. This is the path forward.

This is what I not only have said I was going to, I'm now doing it. This is what I was elected to do.

BERMAN: Police -- how should they change what they do here? What they're asking is well, if you're not going to prosecute these crimes, should we stop making arrests for them?

BRAGG: Look, I've engaged in conversations with our law enforcement partners recently and over the past 20 years. I've worked side-by-side with police to do impactful prosecutions.

So, my message to them is we're going to focus on things that -- the reason why you went to the police academy. I haven't talked to a single police officer, to use your example, who went to the police academy to deal with the stolen banana scourge.

Folks go to the academy to serve and keep us safe. And they think about guns. They think about domestic violence. They think about sexual assaults.

So my message to law enforcement is clear. Let's focus on why you went to the academy. Let's focus on what you know makes us safer.

BERMAN: And I do want to note, finally, at the end, there's a political element to this also. You had to run for office. You had to win an election to be in the job you're in right now.

And John Podhoretz at the "New York Post" writes, quote, "The Republican Party needs to send Alvin Bragg a fruit basket." What do you say to that?


BRAGG: I don't even know what that means. But what I do know is that an overwhelming majority of Manhattan in the general election voted for me. And we put out a detailed plan of what we were going to do and we're now doing it. So, I'm doing what the voters elected me overwhelmingly to do.

BERMAN: So, I --

BRAGG: So, I don't know about a fruit basket.

BERMAN: No. Look, this was your platform. Anyone who was paying attention to this race should not be surprised now that you're doing what you said you would do. And I do appreciate your willingness to come on and discuss this. You certainly shy away from the discussion at all and I think there's a lot more here than just the headlines.

So, District Attorney Alvin Bragg, I really appreciate you being with us. I look forward to continuing this discussion going ahead.

BRAGG: I look forward to it. Thank you for having me on. I welcome this dialogue. This is how our democracy and our policies get better through robust dialogue, so I appreciate what you're doing.

BERMAN: Thank you, sir.

Just hours from now, the Supreme Court takes on President Biden's vaccine mandates for private employers.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: And a judge will sentence the men who chased down and murdered Ahmaud Arbery. His mother will join us live.



KEILAR: Happening soon, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in challenges to President Biden's vaccine mandates for large businesses and many healthcare workers. The new disputes center on federal requirements that raise some interesting legal questions.

CNN's Ariane de Vogue is with us now on this. Ariane, tell us about these questions that are raised here.

ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT REPORTER: Right. This is the biggest push so far by the Biden administration to try to get more people vaccinated.

The legal dispute here centers around two regulations that were passed back in November by the Biden administration -- put forward by the Biden administration. The first requires large employers to mandate that their employees get vaccinated or submit to testing and wearing masks. And the second one requires certain healthcare workers to get vaccinated. And keep in mind this comes as nearly 40 million adults across the country are still declining to get vaccinated.

The Supreme Court -- it's already signed off on some states and universities passing these vaccine mandates.

But this dispute is different because it has to do with the federal government. And that's why states -- Republican-led states and businesses are saying look, the federal government has gone too far here. It can't make such a sweeping mandate without any authorization -- direct authorization from Congress.

And on the other side -- look, the Biden administration says it can step in to protect workers. It says that it's really important for, at the very least, healthcare workers to get vaccinated.

But it all boils down to really the stark differences here. The Biden administration is looking at how many people have been killed by this virus. But the businesses and the Republican-led states say this is going to cost millions of dollars in compliance costs and they think that these sorts of fixes will lead to labor shortages because workers won't want to comply and they'll quit their jobs. And the businesses say that makes things worse off.

And that's what the Supreme Court is going to have to grapple with today at oral arguments.

KEILAR: Yes, it's going to be fascinating to see what, ultimately, they decide here.


KEILAR: Ariane, thank you for that.

DE VOGUE: Thanks.

BERMAN: This morning, emergency rooms in Massachusetts are maxed out as the Omicron variant of coronavirus surges there. Now, members of the National Guard fanning out across the commonwealth to provide much-needed help to dozens of understaffed and overwhelmed hospitals.

CNN's Oren Liebermann live with the latest on this -- Oren.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: John, just days before we entered UMass Memorial Hospital right in central Massachusetts -- the main hospital in that region -- the state's emergency doctors and nurses said we are overwhelmed in a joint statement. We're at critical capacity and it will only get worse because of staffing shortages.

The National Guard is helping to fill some of those shortages -- some on the medical side in certain places across the country but more, also, on other staff in the hospital who are just as critical to making a medical facility function and an emergency room.


LIEBERMANN (voice-over): There is no shortage of patients at UMass Memorial Medical Center. The shortage is of hospital staff.

DR. ERIC DICKSON, PRESIDENT AND CEO, UMASS MEMORIAL MEDICAL HEALTH: It's just the perfect storm for a nightmare here in the emergency department.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): Dr. Eric Dickson says 500 people are out with COVID -- mostly medical staff who have been exposed.

STAFF SGT. JULIUS ANNAN, NATIONAL GUARD: Hello. How are you doing today?

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): The Massachusetts National Guard is helping to fill the gaps. Staff Sgt. Julius Anon has been with the Guard for nine years. He was deployed to Egypt in 2017 and has worked across the state and country. This is one more mission to help.

ANNAN: We're able to feel that these guys are working very hard and that our presence here is helping them just even mentally wise.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): The Guard members took an oath to defend the country against all enemies.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, thank you, thank you for your service.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We appreciate your help.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): Even if they never quite expect it, this --

LT. COL. PATRICK CONNELLY, NATIONAL GUARD: We have soldiers and airmen that are -- they may be computer programmers. They may be school teachers. They may be -- work in the community -- business people -- whatever that is. And they're filling very different roles this time. Roles as drivers or transport people within the hospital, food service, security, and patient observers.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): National Guard medical teams are now deployed in 10 states helping in hospitals and medical facilities. Some 13,000 Guard members have helped across the country with vaccine sites and more, according to Major Gen. Jill Faris.

MAJOR GEN. JILL FARIS, DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF NATIONAL GUARD JOINT SURGEON GENERAL: We've done just about anything affiliated and associated with COVID support. We've seen it happen in all of our states and territories.


LIEBERMANN (voice-over): The main hospital in central Massachusetts is already over capacity -- 115 percent full -- and the numbers are only expected to rise in the coming weeks. Patients fill the hallways. Open rooms are a precious commodity.

The main COVID testing site in downtown Worcester has been packed. On Tuesday, the positivity rate at the site was 40 percent, the hospital said -- more than double what it was a year ago.

In a hospital where the staff is already beyond exhaustion --

LIEBERMANN (on camera): When was the last time you felt relaxed?


LIEBERMANN (voice-over): Every new patient, COVID or not, is a strain on an already strained system. The hospital says nearly 70 percent of the COVID patients are unvaccinated.

PATRICIA LONGVAIL, NURSE, UMASS MEMORIAL MEDICAL CENTER: Well, especially, the people that have gotten boosters. If they get it, they're not getting that sick. But people that are unvaccinated, they're dying. We're losing them.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): Military discipline helps in a crowded hospital, and so did military training for Specialist Stephen Prochniak, who saw a patient who wasn't breathing on the floor.

SPECIALIST STEPHEN PROCHNIAK, NATIONAL GUARD: After standing back for about a minute or so, one of the doctors said hey, do you know CPR? And I said yes, I do. So he said OK, great -- glove up and get in there.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): The patient was resuscitated and Prochniak went back to work cleaning rooms and transporting patients. It is a mission for which the Guard is ready, even if it's not a mission they ever imagined.


LIEBERMANN: Dr. Eric Dickson, the CEO of UMass Memorial, said if there's any positive aspect to look at right now it's that Omicron, from everything they're seeing, tends to blow through quickly. So they're expecting the next two to four weeks to be terrible, if not worse than terrible. But then after that, they think it'll start to improve. John, of course, the challenge is you have to get through the next two to four weeks.

BERMAN: That's right. There's an urgent need right now but hopefully, this moment won't last that long.

Oren Liebermann, thank you very much.

President Biden speaks later this morning about a jobs report. The jobs report due out in less than an hour. We have live coverage of both right here on CNN.

KEILAR: First, the fur flies after Pope Francis rips couples who choose cats and dogs over kids. Is he barking up the wrong tree?



BERMAN: This morning, Pope Francis with some eye-opening statements criticizing those who prioritized pets over parenthood.


POPE FRANCIS (through translator): And many couples don't have children perhaps because they do not wish to, or they only have one and not more. But they might have two domestic animals -- two dogs or cats. This giving up on being a mother or a father can take some of our humanity away from us. Make sure that no one lacks a home, a bond, a person to take care of him or her, and heal the selfishness of those who close themselves off from life.


BERMAN: Joining us now, the host of The Catholic Channel on Sirius XM, Katie McGrady. Katie, thanks so much for being with us.

This sounded to some people as if the Pope was saying -- you know, was coming out as anti-pet. What exactly was going on here?

KATIE MCGRADY, HOST, THE CATHOLIC CHANNEL ON SIRIUS XM (via Skype): Well -- I mean, I think it's important to know that Pope Francis is not saying you're not allowed to have a dog or a cat, right? Pets are perfectly great. I have two kids and a dog and our home is perfectly good.

What I think he was trying to challenge us to contemplate is are we prioritizing domestic pets over inviting children into our home, whether biologically, by way of adoption. He also mentioned spiritual motherhood, spiritual fatherhood.

I mean, Pope Francis speaks every Wednesday. He gives a general audience. He gives some catechesis.

Popes have been doing this for years -- for decades. John Paul II used his Wednesday audiences to teach about theology of the body. Pope Benedict XVI talked a lot about the church fathers and saints. And Pope Francis, for the past few weeks, has been talking about St. Joseph.

So context here is really important. He didn't just say don't have animals. He was talking about a much larger picture here.

KEILAR: And I wonder how the Catholic faithful are responding to this.

MCGRADY: You know, it's interesting. On different parts of social media, you see some people saying yes, go, Pope Francis. We should have more babies. And you have some people saying oh my gosh, I can't believe he's criticizing me.

Everybody's going to sound bite what they want to sound bite. And everybody's going to take what they want to take. And I think reading the entire thing that he said is most important and that will really give people clarification and maybe help people be a little less offended.

Remember, a few years ago, Pope Francis said don't breed like rabbits and people got upset about that as well. I think he's ultimately talking about responsible parenthood. He's talking about really discerning motherhood and fatherhood.

BERMAN: And look, Pope Francis has spoken about this very issue in very similar terms before. This isn't the first time.


BERMAN: And it is an issue around the world in many countries and many societies where people are having fewer children or they're doing it later. And there is a social and societal impact.

MCGRADY: Yes. I mean, kids are -- kids are part of the way that our world and our society continues. And really, discerning the number of children I have, obviously, that's something that my husband I would discuss together -- but also, thinking big picture.

And I think Pope Francis ultimately -- he's not saying don't have animals. He's not saying you should have more children than you have pets. He's saying we need to discern the way that we participate in society and motherhood and fatherhood is a good. It's an objective good.


MCGRADY: The Pope is talking to Catholics. He's calling us to holiness. Parenthood is a path to holiness even though it's hard at times.

And really, there's an underlying theme here of we're called to nurture. Look at how many animals got adopted during all of the lockdowns. We want to nurture. We want to care.

Well, there are children who need homes. He talks about adoption during this entire lecture. There are children who need loving homes, who need foster care.