New Jersey’s Kean University has canceled an upcoming commencement speech for it’s 2015 graduates by longtime rapper, Common, due to objections by local law enforcement. New Jersey state troopers are concerned over the subject matter of Common’s controversial track, “A Song for Assata,” which appeared on his 2000 album, Like Water for Chocolate.
“A Song for Assata” is about Assata Shakur (born Joanne Chesimard), a former Black Panther Party activist who allegedly shot and killed a New Jersey state trooper, Werner Foerster, during a shootout in 1973. Shakur was wounded and her partner, Zayd Malik Shakur, was killed during the supposed gunfight.
A few years later, after numerous acquittals and dismissals, Shakur was convicted of being an accomplice in Foerster’s murder, according to an in-depth report by The Washington Post. In 1979, Shakur escaped a New Jersey correctional facility and made her way to Cuba, where she has been living under political asylum for more than three decades.
Common’s song makes a bold case for Shakur (who is Tupac’s aunt, by the way). In it, the rapper says she is innocent, fleeing after being charged for crimes she didn’t commit.
“Who shot the trooper, they asked her; put mace in her eyes, tried to blast her,” rhymes Common on one of the many descriptive verses in “A Song for Assata.” She was “shot twice wit [sic] her hands up,” Common continues, “police questioned but shot before she answered.”
In an April 1 article from the New York Times, the leader of the State Troopers Fraternal Association of New Jersey, Chris Burgos, called Kean University’s pick a “slap in the face.” And, with that, university spokeswoman Susan Kayne stated that Kean’s announcement to have Common speak was a tad premature.
““The students expressed interest in Common because he composed the Oscar-winning song ‘Glory’ with John Legend, our commencement speaker in 2011. While we respect Common’s talent, Kean is pursuing other speaker options,” Kayne explained.
Despite the fact that Common is sharing his own personal viewpoint on “A Song for Assata,” which was written 15 years ago, New Jersey police are still taking a stand against him. This pushback comes less than four months after Ismaaiyl Brinsley shot and killed two NYPD patrol officers in a Brooklyn neighborhood as a suspected response to the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown at the hands of police.
Soon after, the National Fraternal Order of Police sent a letter to Congress, ordering that the killing of police officers be deemed a “hate crime.” On that note, Cuba made it clear that it will continue granting asylum to Assata. Although President Barack Obama re-opened diplomatic relations with the longtime political enemy in Dec. 2014, Assata will not be returned to New Jersey for another trial anytime soon.