On Thursday morning, Ravinder Bhalla, city council member at large and council president of Hoboken, New Jersey, posted a message on Twitter about the Hoboken City Council approving a waterfront multi-use pathway. In response, he was challenged by a seemingly racist tweet from a Twitter user, who implied that Bhalla was a terrorist and did not belong on the city council or in the United States. Bhalla wears a turban and beard as articles of his Sikh faith and responded to the comment.
"With a lot of the rhetoric we're hearing from people like Donald Trump about Muslim Americans and people who are perceived to be from a Muslim background, I think the spread of Islamophobia from our national leaders sends the wrong message," Bhalla told NBC News. "I hope this episode shows people that words can be hurtful and that discriminating based on how someone looks shouldn't just be ignored. People should be educated on different faiths and backgrounds so that diversity is celebrated. America is, after all, a nation of immigrants. And if we work together instead of against each other, we'll accomplish so much more."
Many voiced their support of Bhalla, including elected officials U.S. Rep. Bonnie Watson-Coleman and Hoboken mayor Dawn Zimmer, members of the Sikh-American community, and his constituents.
"At the end of the day, I don't hold any malice toward this person," Bhalla said. "I forgive him for what he said and hope he will educate himself about how his comments can be hurtful and divisive. I was very happy to see the support I received from my own community with many residents reaching out to say this person does not represent Hoboken or Hudson County, and [that] is part of the reason why I love to be able to serve the people of Hoboken."
Bhalla is also an attorney and a founding member of the national Sikh Bar Association. He earned national recognition for leading a successful challenge to the New York Police Department for restricting the religious practice of a Sikh officer, and he successfully challenged the search policy of the Federal Bureau of Prisons after he was asked to remove his turban in order to see a client.