Prosecutor Gurbir poised to set another first for Sikhs in US

"If confirmed, he will be the first Sikh-American Attorney General in American history. Thank you, Gurbir, for accepting the call to serve NJ," New Jersey governor-elect Philip D. Murphy


Gurbir Singh Grewal, poised to become New Jersey’s attorney general and the first Sikh American to hold such a post in the nation, has been getting much media coverage since the official announcement was made earlier this month (12 Dec 2017).

“If confirmed, he will be the first Sikh-American Attorney General in American history. Thank you, Gurbir, for accepting the call to serve NJ,” New Jersey governor-elect Philip D. Murphy said in a twitter after nominating the Bergen Country prosecutor to the key position.

SEE ALSO: Ravi Bhalla becomes N.J.’s first Sikh mayor

SEE ALSO: Meet Prosecutor Gurbir Singh Grewal

On 27 Dec, Gurbir appears in the New York Times in an article entitled ‘Experiencing Injustice, and Now Prosecuting It, From the Top’ (NYT, 27 Dec 2017). The writer begins the article describing a portrait in his office.

“PARAMUS, N.J. — On a back wall in Gurbir Grewal’s office, three portraits of Japanese-Americans detained at the Manzanar internment camp in California hang above his desk, a reminder for Mr. Grewal of when the power of domestic law went horribly awry.

“Though the portraits are from decades ago, Mr. Grewal sees alarming parallels to the current political environment, where patriotism is sometimes measured by race, faith or political affiliation. The notion to combat this type of injustice has helped inspire Mr. Grewal, a Sikh, throughout his career, an arc that has seen him rise through the ranks of the federal justice system and now has him poised to become New Jersey’s top law enforcement official.”

In an interview with the newspaper, Gurbir said: “It’s important for someone like me to do this job that’s front-line law enforcement, to show people that you don’t have to look a particular way to love this country.”

In November 2016, Gurbir was confirmed as the prosecutor for Bergen County, the most populous county in New Jersey and home to nearly 1 million residents living in 70 municipalities. He became the first Sikh county prosecutor in the state and the first of South Asian descent. What made the appointment was that Gurbir, a Democrat, was appointed by Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican.


Mr. Grewal made his mark in criminal justice with significant federal convictions in financial and cybersecurity crimes, including a case involving two Russian hackers named Drinkman and Smilianets, who oversaw a network that stole more than 160 million credit card numbers. But in today’s political climate, attorneys general in Democratic states are increasingly being viewed as checks on Trump administration policies.

Mr. Grewal, the current Bergen County prosecutor, said he wasn’t concerned about politics.

“Yeah, I mean, but so what?” Mr. Grewal said when asked about whether taking action contrary to Washington could be construed as political. “Because you’re seeing people today, it’s just unconscionable, that their loyalty and their patriotism is being questioned because of what they look like, where they come from, what they believe. And, you know, that’s the same thing we did in 1942. That’s why I have those pictures on the wall.”

For Mr. Grewal, the appointment, which would place him in charge of the state police force and the state’s prosecutors, also fulfills a local-boy-makes-good tale: He is a New Jersey native, born and raised in Essex County.

His rise to the state attorney general’s office also reflects the growing Asian Indian population in New Jersey. The state has the highest percentage of people with Asian Indian backgrounds in the country, according to the Census Bureau’s 2015 American Community Survey.

In 2017, Hoboken elected Ravi Bhalla as the first Sikh mayor of a major city in New Jersey, and Vin Gopal became the first Indian-American to be elected to the State Senate.


Mr. Grewal said he had also been on the receiving end of prejudice and injustice. “Growing up, I was called so many variations of the N-word that it just confused me,” he said.

His ethnicity does not define him, he said, but he is acutely aware that his presence in the courtroom — suit and tie, turban and beard — is freighted with meaning in a world where emerging acceptance still vies with underlying racism.

It was just after the Sept. 11 attacks when Mr. Grewal, then a lawyer in private practice, was constantly harassed by a man who would wait outside the office to shout, “I’ve found him, I’ve found bin Laden!”

Enraged but also embarrassed, he said he began to develop creative ways to leave the office, slinking out back doors and leaving at odd hours. But this eventually grew both tiresome and unacceptable. He decided it was time to do something.

“As a lawyer, you know, the options in front of me at that point were to become a prosecutor,” he said. “So I made it my sort of goal to get into U.S. attorney’s office just so I can get up in front of a jury looking the way I do and say, ‘I represent the United States.’”


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Yuba City names first Sikh woman as mayor (Asia Samachar, 2 Dec 2017)

Ravi Bhalla becomes N.J.’s first Sikh mayor (Asia Samachar, 8 Nov 2017)

Is Canada ready for Jagmeet Singh? (Asia Samachar, 8 Sept 2017)

Meet Prosecutor Gurbir Singh Grewal (Asia Samachar, 19 Nov 2016)


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