NJ lawmakers pass CROWN Act to ban hairstyle discrimination

Lawmakers have passed a new bill that would ban discrimination based on the style or texture of a person’s hair in New Jersey.

Senate Bill 3945, also known as the CROWN Act, was introduced in June after a Buena Regional High School wrestler was forced to either forfeit his match or cut his dreadlocks.

It will amend an existing law to remove any “confusion or ambiguity” regarding protective hairstyles “such hairstyles as braids, locks, and twists.”

The CROWN Act, which stands for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair”, was sponsored by state Assemblywomen Angela McKnight (the primary sponsor), Verlina Reynolds-Jackson, Shanique Speight, and Britnee Timberlake.

The fallout from the 2018 incident involving wrestler Andrew Johnson and referee Alan Maloney was immense.

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Johnson, who identifies as mixed race, had a cover over his hair during the Dec. 2018 wrestling match, but Maloney, who is white, said that the cover wasn’t enough.

A reporter from SNJ Today tweeted a video of Johnson appearing visibly distraught while getting his hair cut shortly before the match.

"He was emotionally drained. He had tears coming down as his dreadlocks cut off," attorney Dominic Speziali told FOX 29 shortly after the incident.

The video went viral and earned nationwide backlash with people calling the incident "racist," ''cruel" and "humiliating."

In Sept. 2019, Maloney was placed on a two-year suspension by the New Jersey’s Division on Civil Rights (DCR) and the state’s Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA).

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“Racial discrimination in the enforcement of the rules of any sport is inconsistent with the spirit of fair play,” said New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal in a statement released Sept. 18, 2019.

“I am grateful the Buena Wrestling incident was taken seriously and things have been put in motion to not only address what happened but to prevent situations like this in the future,” Senator Sandra B. Cunningham tweeted in September in reaction to Attorney General Grewal’s statement.

The CROWN Act is law in New York, California, and parts of Ohio and Maryland.