UNION, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) – New Jersey’s Kean University has cancelled hip-hop artist Common as commencement speaker after police voiced concerns over a song about a convicted cop killer who fled to Cuba.
The school announced the Academy Award winner’s selection on Monday, but said Tuesday night he would not be the speaker.
University spokeswoman Susan Kayne tells The Record newspaper the announcement was made prematurely and the school is pursuing other speaker options.
State Police union president Chris Burgos called the choice a “slap in the face” because lyrics in Common’s 2000 recording “A Song for Assata” portrays Joanne Chesimard as a victim.
Joanne Chesimard was convicted of murdering Trooper Werner Foerster during a gunfight after being stopped on the New Jersey Turnpike in 1973.
Chesimard, whom the FBI has described as a member of the Black Liberation Army, was sentenced to life in prison. But she escaped in 1979 and eventually ended up in Cuba, where she was granted asylum by Fidel Castro and has been living under the name Assata Shakur.
After diplomatic relations were restored between the U.S. and Cuba in December, Gov. Chris Christie sent a letter to the White House, saying Cuba providing safe harbor of Chesimard is an affront to everyone in New Jersey.
Common won the Academy Award for composing the song “Glory” for the 2014 film “Selma.”
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