Two years ago, Suraj Patel led an insurgent, but ultimately unsuccessful campaign to unseat incumbent Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney as District 12’s congressional representative.
Undeterred, he’s back on the (virtual) campaign trail again, but in a vastly changed political landscape. The pandemic and recent protests have influenced his platform, and the race is heated as Maloney has taken more proactive steps to protect her more than 25-year hold on a congressional seat.
Greenpointers spoke with Patel about his involvement in protests against police brutality that have roiled the city as well as his legislative priority to demilitarize the police if elected to Congress.
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.
To voters who don’t know you, can you introduce yourself and explain why you’re running for Congress?
I’m a first-generation American. I’m an attorney and business ethics professor at NYU, and I worked for Barack Obama. I’m running for Congress because this is a moment for change.
We’ve got an incumbent Democrat who represents some of the worst parts of our times. Why do we have a Democrat in a district this progressive that essentially enabled so many of the things that Republicans for decades have fought for? We need generational change right now. If you look around, people are marching, and their aspirations need to be turned into laws. I think the people who turn those aspirations into laws need to be a different set of people than the ones who created the systemic oppression we see today.
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The last several days have been gut wrenching for millions of Americans who know we’ve reached a breaking point. Let me state clearly, the killing of our Black boys, men, and women can not be tolerated when there are proven evidence-based policies to eliminate police brutality, end mass incarceration, and usher in an era of community healing. Last night, I joined thousands of people in a peaceful vigil and march from Carl Schurz Park through the Upper East Side of New York City and millions others around the globe. Make no mistake, Change isn’t just coming for America, Change is Here. If you’re as angry, frustrated, and heartbroken as I am, know that you have the power to make real change. I join countless Americans in outrage at the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and thousands of other Black people at the hands of police. But you can do more than be outraged. You can help remove people from office who helped build systems of oppression and whose very language around the trauma that is inflicting our nation is arcane and offensive. My opponent’s record on criminal justice reform is abhorrent, it is one of the main reasons that, as an attorney, I decided to challenge her and was the centerpiece of my campaign two years ago. Rep. Maloney came up in an era of “tough on crime” policies that carried forward the legacy of state sanctioned brutality against black people. Like many up and coming politicians of the 1990s, she signed onto the painful 1994 Crime Bill which included, among other things mandatory minimums for non-violent offenses. Many people make mistakes, some admit them, some learn from them, some remediate them. Scores of legislation to remediate that bill have come up over the last 3 decades that she’s been in office; she doesn’t add her name. Some moments we know call for a clean break from the past and they call for a new generation of leaders. We’re at a tipping point as a country and we need fighters to take on Trump, not ones who supply him with the rhetoric he is using to threaten our Cities today. 📸 Credit: Sachyn Mital Photography
You’re running to be our representative in the federal government. What would be the first piece of legislation you’d push for if elected to Congress?
We should be legislating to demilitarize police forces in our country. We see millions of people activated by it now across the country. We can’t just let these be like other times. It can’t be sets of protests that then dissipate and no action happens. The action we need is no longer hashtags or posts. The action we need is legislation to change the laws that allow police to brutally murder mostly black and brown men and women in this country with impunity. Continue reading