Several top Black prosecutors have been thrust into the spotlight as they lead high-profile investigations into former President Trump ahead of the 2024 election.
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg recently filed charges against Trump in a case involving hush-money payments to a porn star. Meanwhile, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is probing Trump’s alleged interference in the 2020 election in Georgia, and New York Attorney General Letitia James is overseeing a separate civil fraud case against him.
While the investigations have given the prosecutors positive coverage, they have also opened them up to controversy, as well as frequent attacks from Trump and his allies, some of which observers say carry racist undertones.
Trump has called James a racist and, during the lead-up to the indictment in the hush-money case being issued, demanded Bragg be arrested too, at one point branding him a “racist in reverse.” He also called Bragg a “criminal” and an “animal” and posted a photo of himself holding a baseball bat to Bragg’s head.
These images and words are “dangerous,” said Adrianne Shropshire, a political strategist who’s also the executive director at BlackPAC.
“They are just blatant advocacy of racialized violence,” Shropshire told The Hill. “The language that he used to dehumanize these prosecutors is an escalation of racist rhetoric coming from him, but it also — and this is the dangerous part — it gives permission to others to engage in that rhetoric.”
Black leaders, including the Rev. Al Sharpton and New York’s NAACP President Hazel Dukes, denounced Trump’s “disgraceful” comments toward Bragg, the first Black person elected to the position.
“This disgraceful attack is not a dog-whistle but a bullhorn of incendiary racist and antisemitic bile, spewed out for the sole purpose of intimidating and sabotaging a lawful, legitimate, fact-based investigation,” the leaders said in a joint statement last month.
“These ugly, hateful and anti-American attacks on our judicial system must be universally condemned without equivocation or hesitation. It is clear that Trump would burn down the greatest values of our democracy, and destroy honest, ethical officials performing their constitutional duties, to escape accountability.”
At the former president’s arraignment in New York, ADA Chris Conroy highlighted some of the “escalating” social media posts from Trump, including posts that threatened potential “death and destruction” and targeted various individuals involved in the indictment and their families.
“We have significant concern about the potential danger this kind of rhetoric poses to our city, to potential jurors and witnesses and to the judicial process,” Conroy said.
Much of the concern around Trump’s words and images, Shropshire added, is because he is giving permission to supporters in his base who may be violent “and who will attempt to take matters into their own hands.”
Already, the FBI and NYPD have opened an investigation into a letter containing a death threat and white powder that was mailed to Bragg. The letter, addressed to Bragg, contained a death threat, according to NBC News.
Meanwhile, the New York Daily News reported last month that Bragg has been inundated with racist emails and comments on his website, with users calling him the n-word and to remember that Trump supporters “are everywhere and we have guns.”
“When I see the attacks on those folks, as a son of the South, it’s a chilling reminder that the odor of slavery and racism and Jim Crow still lingers in our day to day lives,” said Antjuan Seawright, a Democratic political strategist based in South Carolina.
“While we’ve made a lot of progress in this country, it doesn’t mean we made change. What we’re seeing is that white supremacy and racism has no boundaries and limits.”
In a sign of how heated things have become, Bragg on Tuesday sued the House Republicans overseeing a probe into the district attorney’s prosecution of Trump. In the lawsuit, filed in a federal court in New York, Bragg called House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan’s (R-Ohio) subpoena of a former prosecutor who worked on the Trump investigation “a transparent campaign to intimidate and attack” his office.
Jordan promptly hit back on Twitter.
“First, they indict a president for no crime,” he wrote. “Then, they sue to block congressional oversight when we ask questions about the federal funds they say they used to do it.”
For an observer like Seawright, there is a level of hypocrisy in the Republican criticism of Bragg. The more Trump and his allies rage against the attorney, he said, the more they highlight the racial disparities built into the criminal justice system.
“Trump and others are attacking a system that has been for them, but is broken for us,” said Seawright. “We’ve seen people go to jail for a lot longer for a whole lot less in our community. In some cases, we’ve seen people who look like Trump not be held accountable at all.”
Still, as advocates worry about the effects of Trump’s rhetoric, the targets themselves remain publicly nonchalant.
The Hill was able to verify an email from Bragg to his employees ahead of Trump’s indictment in which the DA promised neither he nor his office would be intimidated.
“We do not tolerate attempts to intimidate our office or threaten the rule of law in New York,” Bragg wrote, as first published by Politico.
“Our law enforcement partners will ensure that any specific or credible threats against the office will be fully investigated and that the proper safeguards are in place so all 1,600 of us have a secure work environment,” he added. He also said he remains committed to applying the law “evenly and fairly.”
Meanwhile, Willis, who’s leading the investigation in Georgia, told WSBTV that the president and his supporters are allowed to call her whatever they want, even “racist” terms, so long as they don’t threaten her and her family.
“The comment does not concern me at all,” said Willis. “It’s ridiculous in nature, but I support his right to be protected by the First Amendment and say what he likes.”
“People have that right to say whatever they choose to say as long as it does not rise to the level of threats against myself, against my staff or against my family,” she added.
It’s unclear when Willis’s office may level charges against Trump.
Shropshire pointed out that the attorneys have a fine line to walk as the investigations continue.
On the one hand, they must remain professional and work within the law, she said, which means they have to respond in some way to show they will not be intimidated. But on the other hand, they’re also facing personal attacks.
But with Trump still campaigning for 2024, strategists don’t expect these comments to work in the Republican Party’s favor with Black voters.
In 2020, more than 80 percent of Black voters believed Trump to be racist, according to one Washington Post-Ipsos poll. By throwing their support behind him again ahead of 2024, some Republicans risk alienating the key demographic even more.
“They are either using similar language to denounce these prosecutors or they’re saying that the prosecutions are political, which they are not,” said Shropshire of these Republicans.
Still, Seawright said, while it’s important for Democrats to call out Republicans who repeat Trump’s rhetoric, it’s also essential that the party remains focused on the bigger picture.
“We also can’t get drawn into this personality battle,” Seawright said. “We’ve got to stay focused on the policy battle, because part of the strategy of beating out racism, bigotry and hate and Trumpism in this country is beating them with policies to empower the communities that they’re trying to destroy.”