Common was announced as this year’s commencement speaker at Kean University in New Jersey, and the New Jersey State Police were not happy about it.
Billboard reports that Kean backed out on having the Chicago rapper speak because of heat received from the police over the lyrics of his 2000 song “A Song For Assata,” which is about Civil Rights figure and Cuban exile Joanne Chesimard, aka Assata Shakur, who was convicted of killing a state trooper in New Jersey in the 1970s. Kean spokesperson Susan Kayne broke down the college’s reasoning to The Record: “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 pressure came from the police themselves, including Cap. Steve Jones, who told The Record: “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.”
Regardless of whether or not Common has sympathies for Assata (who was most likely wrongly convicted, by the way), he would’ve made a fine speaker and this is just another opportunity for the state to complain about re-capturing a wrongly convicted woman.