Gurbir Grewal becomes the first Sikh nominated as Attorney General in America

Pending confirmation, he will serve as New Jersey’s top law enforcement official

By Geeta Goindi

December 13, 2017 – In keeping with his campaign promise to promote diversity, New Jersey Governor-elect Phil Murphy has appointed Gurbir Grewal, son of Indian immigrants, as the state’s next Attorney General. If confirmed by the Democratic-controlled state senate, Grewal, 44, will be the first Sikh to serve as a state’s top law enforcement official in American history.

Currently he serves as Bergen County prosecutor, overseeing a staff of some 265 personnel in New Jersey’s most populous county.

Addressing a press conference in Trenton, Tuesday, alongside his pick, Murphy, a Democrat, declared, “We are turning a page in New Jersey and I am honored to have Gurbir as my partner”. The Governor-elect pointed out, “Gurbir has excelled at every stage and he is ready to help us lead”.

“A proud son of New Jersey and of immigrants, Gurbir has committed his life to giving back to the state and nation that have given his family so much. His story is the American story”, Murphy said.

Noting that Grewal will be the first South Asian attorney general in New Jersey’s history and the first Sikh American to serve as a state attorney general in the history of the United States, the Governor-elect recalled that throughout his campaign he made it clear that he will select “the best and brightest” to serve in his administration and strive to ensure that his cabinet reflects the state’s “tremendous diversity”.

Grewal, a turbaned Sikh who proudly wears his articles of faith, was accompanied to the press conference by his wife Amrit and three young daughters.

About his decision to leave private law practice 14 years ago to pursue public service, he said, “As someone who has experienced hate and intolerance first-hand throughout my life, I wanted to work to ensure that we all live in, and that the three of you (looking at his daughters) grow up in, a fair and just society”.

Grewal professed he wanted to give back to the country that has given so much to immigrants like him and his family, “and in the process, I wanted to show people that while I and others like me can look different or worship differently, we, too, are committed to this country”, he said. “There is simply no limitations on your success if you work hard”, he underscored.

As Prosecutor, he dwelt on the successes in Bergen County particularly when it came to ensuring public safety, making sure people are treated with dignity and respect and those suffering from drug addiction and mental health illness get the help they deserve. He mentioned the county’s “zero tolerance policy when it comes to incidents of hate and bias” and spoke of working with educators to address such issues when they take place in area schools.

Decrying the Trump administration, Governor-elect Murphy noted, “In light of all that has been thrown at us by the president, we need an attorney general unafraid to join our fellow states in using the law to protect all New Jersey residents”. He expressed full confidence in Grewal’s ability to protect immigrant communities and Dreamers (young undocumented immigrants) from discrimination, prevent the Affordable Care Act from being undermined, keep sensitive data away from people bent on suppressing voting rights, stand up for the LGBT community, and enforce gun control laws.

“When it comes to deciding who will serve as attorney general in particular, our state needs someone with a steel backbone who will not be afraid to stand up to President Trump and the Republican leadership in Congress to protect the rights and values of our state and of all nine million of our residents”, Murphy said.

“I am entrusting Gurbir based on his record in Bergen County with nearly 3,000 law enforcement officers in 70 municipalities under his authority. More than just his professional qualifications, I am proud to invite Gurbir to join our cabinet because of his commitment to public service and to ensuring equal protection under the law”, the Governor-elect said.

On his part, Grewal pledged “to work tirelessly” to implement Murphy’s vision for the state and to help make it a reality.

It’s interesting to note that he is a Democrat who was tapped by New Jersey’s outgoing Republican Governor Chris Christie to serve as Bergen County Prosecutor. Commending Murphy’s pick for the state’s next attorney general, Christie said in a statement, “Gurbir’s intellect and experience is what attracted me to him and what led me to fight entrenched interests to make him Bergen County Prosecutor. I am sure it is those same qualities that attracted the Governor-elect to him as well. His tenure, almost without exception, has been exemplary. I am confident he has the skills necessary to be an Attorney General we can be proud of in New Jersey”.

Political representation matters and Sikhs, too often the victims of a hate crime in America, are learning this the hard way. Last month, Ravi Bhalla became the first Sikh Mayor of Hoboken, a city in New Jersey. He won after a hard-fought campaign which was targeted by racist flyers that labeled him a terrorist.

The community is hoping that political representation will translate into public awareness about Sikhs and Sikhism, the world’s fifth largest religion.


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