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University Cancels Commencement Speech by Common After Police Complaints

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A New Jersey university cancelled rapper Common as graduation speaker just hours after his selection when police expressed concerns about a song the rapper wrote that appears to sympathize with a convicted cop-killer.

Kean University announced earlier this week via Twitter that Common would speak at the school’s commencement ceremony, but abruptly reversed its decision and deleted its tweet several hours later, according to the Record newspaper. Kean University spokeswoman Susan Kayne said in a statement that the social media announcement was made prematurely.

“The students expressed interest in Common because he composed the Oscar-winning song ‘Glory’ with our prior commencement speaker John Legend,” Kayne told the Record. While we respect his talent, Kean is pursuing other speaker options.”

The cancellation came after several state law enforcement officials expressed concerns over Common’s selection.

New Jersey police have long protested a 2000 song by the artist called “A Song for Assata,” in which the rapper’s lyrics appear to sympathize with cop-killer Joanne Chesimard, also known as Assata Shakur, who was convicted in 1977 for the murder of State Trooper Werner Foerster.

Shakur and two other members of the Black Liberation Army fired on Foerster and another police officer during a traffic stop on the New Jersey Turnpike in 1973. Foerster was reportedly shot twice in the head with his own gun while the other officer was injured in the shootout. Shakur ultimately escaped from prison and has been living in Cuba as a fugitive.

“We can’t control who the university invites to speak,” state police spokesman Capt. Steve Jones told the Record. “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.”

State Troopers Fraternal Association of New Jersey president Chris Borgos called the selection of Common as commencement speaker a “slap in the face” to New Jersey’s police officers.

“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,” Borgos told the Record, adding: “Free speech is free speech… but our positions are well known.”

Common won an Oscar earlier this year for co-writing the hit song “Glory” from the movie Selma. Selma director Ava DuVernay appeared to show support for the rapper in a tweet Wednesday afternoon:

John Legend, who collaborated with Common on the Oscar-winning song, was reportedly paid $25,000 to speak at Kean University’s 2011 commencement.


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