Common’s speech at New Jersey university cancelled on police advice

Police force objected to rapper’s 2000 song about Black Panther activist who killed police officer

Common has had his speech at a university in New Jersey cancelled after police objected to his appearance.

The rapper had been due to give the commencement speech to students at New Jersey’s Kean University on May 21, but he will no longer appear after The State Troopers Fraternal Association Of New Jersey (STFANJ) said the choice of star was unsuitable.

Police objected to lyrics in Common’s song ‘A Song For Assata’ from his 2000 album ‘Like Water For Chocolate’. The song tells the story of Assata Shakur, a member of the Black Panther Party who was convicted of killing New Jersey state trooper Werner Foerster in 1973 in a shootout. Shakur escaped from prison in 1979 and has been living under political asylum in Cuba since 1984.

STFANJ president Chris Burgos told The New Jersey Record the decision to let Common give the commencement speech was “a slap in the face” to state troopers. He added: “Free speech is free speech, but our position is well known.”

State police spokesman Captain Steve Jones said the police had no control over who the university could invite to speak, but added: “We will continue our efforts to make the public aware of Shakur’s escape and life on the lam. We continue to seek her return to New Jersey and justice.”

Kean University said it would now be seeking another speaker to give the speech. Spokeswoman Susan Kayne said: “Students expressed interest in Common because he composed the Oscar-winning song ‘Glory’ with our prior commencement speaker John Legend.” Legend gave the University’s commencement speech in 2011. Kayne added: “While we respect Common’s talent, we are pursuing other speaker options.”

Kean University’s previous commencement speaker, former Saturday Night Live comedian Darrell Hammond, caused controversy in 2014 when he boasted of his poor student record at the ceremony.