Radio Hosts Suspended for Calling Nation's First Sikh Attorney General 'Turban Man'
By Rob Tornoe
New Jersey 101.5 hosts Dennis Malloy and Judi Franco have been suspended "until further notice" over the duo's derogatory comments about state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal.
Malloy and Franco, who have hosted NJ 101.5's Dennis & Judi Show since 1997, repeatedly referred to Grewal, the nation's first Sikh attorney general, as "turban man" on air during Wednesday's broadcast.
"We are aware of the offensive comments made by Dennis and Judi during today's broadcast," the station said in a statement posted early Thursday morning. "We have taken immediate action and have taken them off the air until further notice. We are investigating the matter and will have further comment shortly."
Malloy and Franco made their comments during a discussion about Grewal's order on Tuesday to immediately suspend all municipal prosecutions of marijuana offenses in the state as lawmakers continue to debate its legalization.
Malloy said he couldn't remember Grewal's name, telling Franco that "I'm just going to say the guy with the turban." The duo continued to refer to Grewal as "Turban Man" throughout the segment, and even acknowledged they knew the term could be considered offensive.
"Listen, and if that offends you, then don't wear the turban and maybe I'll remember your name," Malloy said.
"Is that highly offense?... Could be. But if you call me 'baseball hat man' in a culture where nobody wears baseball hats, and they call me 'baseball hat man,' should I be offended?" Malloy continued. "I would say no."
The comments drew widespread criticism on social media and from political leaders throughout the state. Gov. Phil Murphy called the comments "abhorrent and xenophobic," and called on management at the station to "hold the hosts accountable for these intolerant and racist comments."
Hoboken Mayor Jayor Ravinder S. Bhalla, who is also a Sikh, weighed into the controversy in a series of tweets, where he called for a advertising boycott of the show and said "this type of racist garbage has no place in Jersey.
Grewal himself weighed in on Twitter early Tuesday morning, where he wrote that he simply told his three daughters to turn off the radio.
"This is not the first indignity I've faced and it probably won't be the last. Sometimes, I endure it alone," Grewal said. "Yesterday, all of New Jersey heard it. It's time to end small-minded intolerance."
In an interview back in March with my colleague Jan Hefler, Grewal said it was hateful comments he received growing up in Essex County with his parents -- an engineer and a bookkeeper who became naturalized citizens -- that helped motivate him to pursue a career in law enforcement.
"We're all informed by our life experiences in everything we do," Grewal said. "My experience growing up as a Sikh in this country, and having dealt with bias, hate, and bullying has sensitized me to the effects that this conduct can have on others and motivates me a great deal."