Aug 1 1997

Hate Talk and Politics

On December December 12, 1996, New York-based syndicated radio host Bob Grant singled out immigrants from India as the target of his vitriol:

It wasn’t too many years ago that most people could walk down the street and never have the pungent, sickening aroma of curry wafting up their nostrils. I don’t mean to single out people who come from a country that eats curry, uses curry, bathes in curry, dives in curry, swims in curry, sleeps in curry, but it is true.

As a matter of fact, there is a community not too, too far from where this great radio studio [WOR] I’m sitting in is located, called Iselin, New Jersey. For all practical purposes, ladies and gentlemen, when you enter Iselin, you have left the United States of America and are now in a modern version of a small city in India….

Those elements that have kept us together, we are losing…. Why are we ashamed to want to preserve what has made this such a great nation?… It’s because the politically correct vermin…who have seized control, the politically correct vermin have successfully made people ashamed.

The next day in Iselin, two businesses and a house belonging to Indian immigrants were spray-painted with swastikas and ethnic slurs, and one of the businesses was hit with gunfire. (Another house belonging to an African-American was also vandalized.) On May 10, when Grant appeared at Rutgers University, residents of Iselin turned out to protest him, drawing a link between his inflammatory broadcast and the hate crimes that occurred the next day.

In a town meeting held by New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani a few weeks later (5/21/97), activist Scott Pellegrino brought up the apparent connection between Grant’s hate speech and the next day’s crimes. Since Giuliani’s office had earlier condemned the radio show of black activist Rev. Al Sharpton (WWRL-AM, 9/9/95) for contributing to a climate of hate before a massacre at a Harlem clothing store, Pellegrino asked that Giuliani take a consistent position with regard to Grant, whose show the mayor has frequently appeared on.

“If you are serious about the relationship between hate speech and violence,” Pellegrino asked, “will you stop going on the show or at least have the decency to confront Bob Grant on his racism?”

“No,” Giuliani responded. “It’s not my job to censor what goes on on radio, on television. There’s an awful lot of discussion that goes on.”

“I didn’t ask you to censor him, I asked you to confront his racism instead of ignoring it,” Pellegrino retorted. Giuliani refused to accept tapes of Grant’s December 12 show offered to him by Pellegrino.

A month after this town meeting, Giuliani did attack ethnic slurs against Puerto Ricans by the columnist Taki in the British Spectator (6/14/97). “This kind of thing, if left unchecked for too long, results in violence,” Giuliani said, calling for a boycott of the publication if it did not fire Taki (New York Daily News, 6/28/97).

The difference between Grant’s insults to Indians and Taki’s insults to Puerto Ricans seems to be that Giuliani needs the support of Puerto Ricans more than Indian-Americans in the November 1997 elections—and he needs the support of Bob Grant most of all.