Kean University’s decision to rescind an invitation for Common to deliver its commencement address shows why there’s tension between blacks and police officers.
Law enforcement just doesn’t get it.
In the world of hip-hop, Common is considered to be one of the good guys. He is not known for the “kill-a-cop-smack-your-woman” lyrics that have turned the music genre into a cesspool.
Heck, Common’s music is so positive you could put it on with grandma in the room.
Last month, Common, along with John Legend, won the Academy Award for the song “Glory” that was featured in the civil rights movie “Selma.”
So it is ludicrous that the New Jersey State Police are so outraged by a song Common released 15 years ago, it pressured university officials into backing away from its invite.
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“A Song for Assata” is a tribute to Joanne Chesimard, also known as Assata Shakur. Chesimard was a member of the former Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army. She was convicted in 1977 for the killing of State Trooper Werner Foerster in a shootout that seriously wounded Chesimard and killed another Black Liberation Army member.
There is a $2 million reward for information leading to the arrest of Chesimard, who fled to Cuba after her prison escape.
Obviously, law enforcement should use all the resources at its disposal to return a convicted criminal to justice.
But justice is not a simple matter for black people. Too many of them have been wrongfully convicted. Too many have been brutalized. Too many have been killed in the custody of police officers.
Chesimard’s imprisonment and escape elevated her to cult status among young artists.
The song’s lyrics included these lines: There were lights and sirens, gunshots firin Cover your eyes as I describe a scene so violent Seemed like a bad dream, she laid in a blood puddle Blood bubbled in her chest, cold air brushed against open flesh No room to rest, pain consumed each breath Shot twice wit her hands up Police questioned but shot before she answered. One Panther lost his life, the other ran for his Scandalous the police were as they kicked and beat her Comprehension she was beyond, tryna hold on To life, she thought she’d live with no arm.
These aren’t words of someone who disrespects or hates police officers.
Indeed, the work the Common Ground Foundation, the musician’s charity, is doing to help disadvantaged youth is the kind of effort that helps young people avoid run-ins with police.
Common’s “Assata” song is a poignant lament for a black woman who was involved in the violent side of the struggle for black equality in this country.
Common’s lyrics didn’t call for retribution. His prose called for recognition.
Yet the head of the State Troopers Fraternal Association of New Jersey characterized the rappers’ words as a “slap in the face.”
“Free speech is free speech . . . but our positions are well known,” Chris Burgos said in an interview with The Record.
Free speech is never free, and Common is paying the price for exercising his rights.
Frankly, losing a speaking engagement is a small price to pay for one’s integrity.
But students at Kean shouldn’t be fooled.
The move by New Jersey state troopers to silence Common isn’t an act of solidarity.
It is an act of bullying.