October 14, 2019 (Bergen County, NJ) – Last Friday, in partnership with Sheriff Anthony Cureton of the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office, the Sikh Coalition and the Gay Officer’s Action League (GOAL) of New York offered a training opportunity for Sheriff and Correction officers of the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office.

These trainings were in response to the September 2018 recording of former Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino making racist and homophobic remarks. His comments targeted the black community and Sikh American New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, and also included homophobic remarks about New Jersey Lieutenant Governor Sheila Y. Oliver. Within hours of the recording’s release, the Sikh Coalition issued a press statement and organized a grassroots campaign. By that weekend, the Sikh Coalition had mobilized community members to send more than 1,700 emails to the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office demanding his resignation.

Sheriff Saudino apologized and subsequently resigned due to mounting public pressure — including from the Sikh Coalition’s work to empower the overwhelming community response. In the months since, the Sikh Coalition has been working with the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office, under the new leadership of Sheriff Anthony Cureton and others, to raise awareness about the Sikh community.

“We are proud of the work our department has done to ensure that a few bad apples do not poison the rhetoric, work, and reputation of our amazing team at the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office,” said Sheriff Cureton. “It is trainings like these that allow us to learn more about our fellow citizens so that we can better protect and serve all, regardless of our differences, and we’re grateful for the Sikh Coalition’s investment and confidence in our department.”

Visibility and awareness matter for the Sikh community of New Jersey. The state is home to 12 gurdwaras, and a steadily-growing Sikh population. Based on the most recent FBI data, hate crimes in New Jersey increased by more than 75% between 2016 and 2017, and elected officials–including Sikh Americans Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla and New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal–continue to be harassed and discriminated against based on their Sikh identity. Trainings like these, however, ensure that officers are better equipped to serve and protect Sikh Americans.

“Tone at the top matters, and it is critical that the community sees the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office work to remedy the harm caused by such hateful comments,” said Sikh Coalition Policy and Advocacy Manager Nikki Singh. “We are appreciative of the officers’ willingness to learn about the Sikh faith, and we look forward to the positive changes that will result from these trainings.”

As always, the Sikh Coalition urges you to practice your faith fearlessly.