Radio Hosts Suspended After Calling New Jersey Attorney General ‘Turban Man’
Two New Jersey radio hosts have been suspended for 10 days after making derogatory comments about the state’s attorney general, Gurbir Grewal, including calling him “turban man.”
On Wednesday, the radio hosts, Dennis Malloy and Judi Franco of New Jersey 101.5/WKXW-FM, were discussing Grewal’s recent announcement in which he asked prosecutors to delay cases concerning marijuana-related offenses for a month.
Molloy stated he was never going to learn Grewal’s name and instead opted to call him “turban man,” according to audio of the broadcast.
“Listen, if that offends you, then don’t wear the turban and I’ll remember your name,” Malloy said. He then asked Franco if “turban man” was highly offensive.
“To me?” she responded. “No. To people who wear turbans? Could be.”
Grewal, 45, a Democrat who took office in January, is the first Sikh to become a state attorney general.
The backlash to the radio hosts’ comments was swift. By Wednesday night, Gov. Philip Murphy, a Democrat, described the comments as “hate speech,” calling it “abhorrent and xenophobic.”
“We have to call out wholly inappropriate behavior and words immediately,” he said in an interview Thursday. “We need to be unequivocal.”
Grewal sent a tweet to the radio station from his personal account Thursday morning: “My name, for the record, is Gurbir Grewal. I’m the 61st Attorney General of NJ. I’m a Sikh American. I have 3 daughters. And yesterday, I told them to turn off the radio.”
The radio station announced Thursday afternoon in a statement that Malloy and Franco had been suspended and said that the pair had apologized to Grewal.
“We use humor and sarcasm to make a point and add color to the broadcast; in this instance, we were off the mark,” the statement said. “It was a mistake we both deeply regret.”
The hosts’ comments reduced Grewal down to just his faith, said Gurwin Singh Ahuja, co-founder of the National Sikh Campaign. But the real damage came not from dubbing Grewal “turban man,” he said, but rather the hosts’ clear disregard for what the turban represents to Sikhs.
“It’s a commitment to fight for our values,” which include gender and racial equality, as well as religious tolerance, he said. When Malloy stated he would remember Grewal’s name were he not wearing a turban, it was a reminder of the limit some Sikh Americans feel when expressing their cultural and religious identities, Ahuja said.
That remark is also what made Mayor Ravi Bhalla of Hoboken, New Jersey, the state’s first Sikh mayor, and his wife gasp.
“That was the dagger in the back,” Ravi Bhalla said. “It was blatantly discriminatory.”
“If he was an attorney general who was not a Sikh, he wouldn’t have a problem saying his name,” he added.
While Bhalla said he had heard similar derogatory comments in the past, “this situation is somewhat distinguishable because in this case, you have a media outlet with some measure of authority.” He called the 10-day suspension “a slap on the wrist” and said the hosts should be required to have diversity training.
On Twitter, Grewal resurfaced a video taken at a keynote speech he gave at a conference in May.
In the speech, he said that marginalized communities had faced attacks and insults as they struggled for a better life.
“But part of what makes our country so great is that we rise above those attacks and we rise above those insults,” he said in the video. “And we come together to build something, something greater and stronger than existed before.”
© New York Times 2018