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N.J. attorney general promotes tolerance at Rutgers event

New Jersey Attorney General Chris Porrino spoke about helping victims of racial and religious discrimination, as well as a case his office is working on surrounding a developmentally disabled child, during the second annual "Stand Up for the Other" rally. – Photo by Casey Ambrosio

The Office of the New Jersey Attorney General recently filed a suit against an Elizabeth landlord who said he does not rent to Muslims.

In the past, the office filed suits against employers for racial discrimination, said New Jersey Attorney General Christopher Porrino.

Porrino spoke at the second annual "Stand Up for the Other" interfaith rally Tuesday night in the Douglass Student Center, along with State Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-20) and Linda Greenstein (D-14), as well as Assemblywoman Nancy Pinkin (D-18). The meeting was meant to unite members of different faiths against acts of bigotry.

"I can't imagine a more important endeavor right now than opposing bias in New Jersey," Porrino said. "The bad news is bigotry walks among us every day, so what do we do? We push back. We refuse to tolerate bigoted jokes."

The rally is part of a national effort to combat attacks on ethnic or religious groups, according to a press release by Stand Up for the Other. The event included a pledge to "stand up for the other and challenge bigotry in any form" that the participants took during the night.

Not everyone is discriminated against because of race or religion, Porrino said. The Office of the Attorney General is also suing a preschool for expelling a student with Down's syndrome due to her inability to control her bowel movements.

The child's family produced paperwork showing their daughter was developmentally disabled and would need at least two years before she might be able to use a restroom. The school dismissed her anyway, Porrino said.

"We stood up for the rights of a young person, a 3-year-old with Down's Syndrome and her parents," he said. "The Division of Criminal Justice stands up every day for the victims of crime. After all, standing up for the other is really what law enforcement is supposed to do."

While his office can take on cases of discrimination, court cases often take some time to resolve, Porrino said. For that reason, it is important for people to help each other in their neighborhoods and communities wherever they see acts of bias.

"Law enforcement and the Office of the Attorney General has the power to stand up for the other against bigots," he said. "It's our job to do that ... (but) we need to stand up for each other in our communities."

Lesniak concurred, noting that while Muslim communities in America face discrimination, Muslims were instrumental in helping find Ahmad Khan Rahimi, the alleged New Jersey and New York bomber last month. 

He specifically spoke against Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and his calls for "extreme vetting" and a Muslim ban

"We don't need extra patrols in my neighborhood. Maybe in some other neighborhoods ... but not in my Muslim neighborhood," he said. "I know my community is a safe community ... (but) Donald Trump is sending another message, and that's not what this country is about."

The 2016 election has been particularly divisive, which is harmful to the country, Lesniak said. He plans to make the New Jersey Senate take the pledge to try and begin bringing the state back together. 

"After this election particularly, we have to make sure we are one New Jersey and one America," he said. "(It's) important ... after this election that we come together."

Nikhilesh De is the news editor of The Daily Targum. He is a School of Engineering senior. Follow him on Twitter @nikhileshde for more.

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