School Cancels Common’s Commencement Speech After Police Complain

Common has built a multiple-decade rap career, thanks in part to his warm, humane, politically motivated lyrics. In the past few months, he’s won both an Oscar and a Golden Globe for “Glory,” the song he and John Legend contributed to the Martin Luther King biopic Selma. (Common also acted in Selma.) He’s performed at the White House. But apparently, New Jersey police are not willing to sit idly by while he serves as commencement speaker at Kean University.

As NorthJersey.com reports, Kean announced Common as its commencement speaker for this year, and then retracted the announcement hours later. The university claims that the announcement was made prematurely, and school spokesperson Susan Kayne says, “The students expressed interest in Common because he composed the Oscar-winning song ‘Glory’ with our prior commencement speaker John Legend. While we respect his talent, Kean is pursuing other speaker options.”

The change sure seems to have something to do with Jersey police and their problems with a 15-year-old Common song. Area police objected because of “A Song For Assata,” a track from Common’s 2000 album Like Water For Chocolate. The song is dedicated to Assata Shakur, also known as Joanne Chesimard. Shakur, now a fugitive living in Cuba, was convicted of killing New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster in 1977. The killing has been a source of controversy in the decades since, with Shakur and many sympathizers claiming she was innocent.

In a statement, State Troopers Fraternal Association of New Jersey president Chris Burgos called the booking of Common “a slap in the face”: “What is troubling here is that a state university that is subsidized with state taxpayer funds, is once again being questioned on their decision-making at the highest levels.”

Meanwhile, state police spokesman Capt. Steve Jones says, “We can’t control who the university invites to speak. However, we will continue our efforts to make the public aware of Joanne Chesimard’s escape and life on the lam and continue to seek her return to New Jersey and justice.”

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