What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

In exclusive interview, N.J. attorney general reacts to ‘hateful’ ridicule by radio hosts

A pair of longtime New Jersey radio hosts, Dennis Malloy and Judi Franco, were kicked off the air Thursday after repeatedly referring to Gurbir Grewal, the country's first Sikh attorney general, as "turban man." In an exclusive interview, Grewal joins Amna Nawaz to speak out against discrimination and stand up for those who can’t.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The problem of hateful speech, it turns out, is not limited to the Internet.

    A pair of longtime New Jersey radio hosts were kicked off the air today, after repeatedly referring to the country's first Sikh state attorney general as Turban Man on air.

    Amna Nawaz has the story.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy called the remarks by New Jersey's 101.5's Dennis Malloy and Judi Franco abhorrent and xenophobic.

    Here's what they said, referring to New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, on "The Dennis & Judi" show Wednesday afternoon.

  • Dennis Malloy:

    The attorney general, I'm never going to know his name. Just going to say the guy with the turban.

  • Judi Franco:

    OK.

  • Dennis Malloy:

    The new attorney general.

  • Judi Franco:

    Turban Man!

  • Dennis Malloy:

    Yes, Turban Man.

    Hey, listen, and if that offends you, then don't wear the turban, man, and I will remember your name.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Dennis Malloy:

    But Turban Man, is that highly offensive?

  • Judi Franco:

    To me?

  • Dennis Malloy:

    Yes.

  • Judi Franco:

    No.

    To people who wears turbans? Could be.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal joins us now from Newark.

    Mr. Attorney General, thanks for making the time.

    I want to ask you. You have spoken before about experiencing discrimination at various points in your life. But, in this one moment, when you heard these remarks, what went through your mind?

  • Gurbir Grewal:

    Amna, unfortunately, I have spoken on this issue before during — throughout my life, really.

    What was different about this particular incident is, I think all of New Jersey heard it. More often than not, a lot of these comments are on the comment sections of newspaper articles or on social media.

    And when all of New Jersey heard it, my initial reaction was, obviously, it was a little bit disturbing to me. But I have developed thick skin throughout my career. I have a high-profile job. I have a lot of people around me to look out and protect me. I have a security detail.

    But what really bothered me was that there are so many other people in the state that don't have that same thick skin. There are people that don't have the benefit of the same security I have that will be affected really deeply by these types of comments, particularly kids, other Sikh kids who might not have thick skin.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Let me ask you about that position now, because it is very high-profile. As you said, you are visible in many ways.

    You're also the first Sikh state attorney general in U.S. history. Do you see it as part of your responsibility to have to represent for your faith, to have to educate other people about your faith?

  • Gurbir Grewal:

    It's not just representing for my faith. I think it's standing up for those who can't stand up for themselves.

    My faith is a personal matter. But, by virtue of being a Sikh, it is something that I wear openly. And people know that I am a Sikh.

    And so I do explain myself. And I do explain to people the concepts of my religion. But it motivates me on in — in a personal way. And it motivates me in a professional way to stand up for those who can't stand up for themselves.

    And so, in a lot of ways, being a Sikh means, to me, being a natural-born public servant and standing up for, in the case of my work, on behalf of DACA recipients, standing up against the DACA repeal, standing up against an unconstitutional travel ban, standing up against family separation, standing up against any sort of hate and bigotry that we see in this state.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Let me ask you about some of those positions you just mentioned now.

    In your role as attorney general, you have filed or joined more than 30 lawsuits specifically challenging Trump administration policies. Do you see it as part of your priorities in office to challenge this administration?

  • Gurbir Grewal:

    I — as the chief law enforcement officer, I would love to concentrate all my time here on New Jersey, but, unfortunately, New Jersey is also under attack from Washington.

    And so we have to stand up for the tens of thousands of DACA recipients in this state whose lives are being put in jeopardy. We have to stand up against the travel ban, which is affecting Muslim members of our — of New Jersey, residents of New Jersey. We have to stand up on so many different issues, because there's so much coming out of Washington at this point.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You mentioned standing up to the remarks you heard from the radio hosts earlier.

    You tweeted in response at the radio station, and you said, "This is my name. This is my position. I'm a Sikh America."

    And you also said, "I have three daughters. And, yesterday, I told them to turn off the radio."

    What did you say to your children about what they had just heard?

  • Gurbir Grewal:

    Radio hosts are free to criticize me. I have an enormous privilege to serve the residents of this state. And they have the privilege to criticize me and call me out on policies that they don't like.

    But we could do it in a thoughtful manner. We could do it in a courteous manner and in a respectful manner. So, that's what I teach my kids. And if I had the opportunity to talk to these radio hosts, that's what I would say to them.

    People have said, would you go on their radio show? I have no desire to go practice my interview skills on a radio show. I think they could benefit by joining in a community meeting, where I go talk to residents in the state who have been affected by hate and bias crimes.

    And I would welcome the opportunity to show them how hateful conduct — or hateful comments are now turning into hateful conduct in parts of this state, and how we all have a responsibility in this moment to act better.

    And that's the message I sent to my daughters. That's the message I try to portray through my work. That's the message I will continue to stand up for as attorney general of New Jersey.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    New Jersey's attorney general, Gurbir Grewal, thanks for your time.

  • Gurbir Grewal:

    My pleasure. Thank you for having me.

Listen to this Segment