On Monday night (Mar. 30) New Jersey’s Kean University announced via the university’s official Twitter and website that Common would be the commencement speaker, only to retract the announcement mere hours later.
The university’s choice of the Academy Award winning rapper was “strongly opposed” by New Jersey police who were concerned that Common sympathized with Assata Shakur (Joanne Chesimard), who was convicted of first-degree murder in the 1973 death of New Jersey Trooper Werner Foerster, because of his 2000 song titled “A Song For Assata.” According to police, Shakur and fellow black nationalists opened fire on Foerster, killing him and wounding another trooper, during a traffic stop on the New Jersey Turnpike.
Chris Burgos, president of the State Troopers Fraternal Association of New Jersey, said Kean’s initial decision to have Common as their commencement speaker was “slap in the face” to those who serve and protect.
“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.”
Shakur, step-aunt and godmother to late rapper Tupac, has been living in Cuba in political asylum for decades after escaping from prison in 1979. On May 2, 2013, the FBI added her to the Most Wanted Terrorist List, making her the first woman to be listed. She recently reappeared in the news after talks between the U.S. and Cuba turned friendly, with U.S. lawmakers asking Cuba to extradite Shakur back to the states. The Cuban government has refused, saying she “legitimately earned” her political asylum.
University spokeswoman Susan Kayne told local paper The Record that their announcement was premature, saying:
“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.”
Last night (Apr. 2) nigh the university removed the announcement of Common as commencement speaker from its Twitter account and website, asking students to stay tuned for further developments.