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Radio Hosts Suspended For Calling New Jersey's Sikh Attorney General 'Turban Man'

New Jersey's Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal in an official photo taken in Trenton, N.J., in January.
Tim Larsen
Tim Larsen
New Jersey's Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal in an official photo taken in Trenton, N.J., in January.

A pair of New Jersey radio hosts have apologized after they were suspended for referring to the state's Sikh attorney general as "turban man" during their Wednesday program.

WKXW-FM hosts Dennis Malloy and Judi Franco issued a written apology to Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal, who was appointed in January and is the first Sikh in the nation to hold such a post.

On the Wednesday edition of The Dennis & Judi Show, the co-hosts were discussing Grewal's directive to suspend marijuana prosecutions. Malloy said he was unable to remember the attorney general's name, so would refer to him as "the guy with the turban."

"Turban man!" Franco replied.

"If that offends you, then don't wear the turban," Malloy said, "And, maybe I'll remember your name."

Grewal, who is a first-generation U.S. citizen who grew up in Essex, N.J., responded in a tweet Thursday, "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."

In a subsequent tweet, Grewal wrote, "This is not the first indignity I've faced and it probably won't be the last. Sometimes, I endure it alone. Yesterday, all of New Jersey heard it. It's time to end small-minded intolerance."

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy also weighed in with a tweet: "Outraged by the abhorrent and xenophobic comments mocking @NewJerseyOAG on The @DennisandJudi Show on @nj1015," he wrote.

Murphy also retweeted others, such New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, who wrote "Such hateful rhetoric doesn't reduce Gurbir, such hateful rhetoric reduces and disgraces the one who uses it."

In a video apology posted to the radio station's website on Thursday, Malloy said he was speaking for himself and on behalf of his co-host, "offering our heartfelt apologies to the attorney general of the state of New Jersey, who is a man who certainly deserves more respect than our comments reflected on Wednesday."

"I made a mistake on Wednesday in saying something that was out of bounds, and it was wrong," Malloy said.

The Sikh Coalition, a New York-based advocacy group, says Sikhism "is a relatively young tradition that was founded over 500 years ago in the Punjab region of South Asia. There are more than 25 million Sikhs around the world, which makes Sikhism the world's fifth largest religion. Sikhs first came to the United States in the late 1800s and there are an estimated 500,000 Sikhs living in America today."

"These statements against the top law enforcement official in the state of New Jersey are particularly egregious coming from amplified voices of radio hosts, given the prominence of racism and xenophobia against Sikhs across the country," said Satjeet Kaur, the Sikh Coalition's executive director, according to The Associated Press.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.
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