Common Controversy Comes to White House Poetry Night; Cops, Conservatives Cry Foul at Some of His Past Work (UPDATED)

May 11, 2011 11:42am

 

New Jersey State Trooper Dave Jones could hardly believe it.

An official from the White House had called him to find out more about his objections to the participation of the hip hop artist “Common” in White House poetry night, and the official had never heard of Joanne Chesimard. 

Common celebrated Chesimard, also known as Assata Shakur, in his song "A Song for Assata,”  one of a handful of works that have this week been criticized with his invitation to the White House. Common is a fairly mainstream hip hop artist, but he has voiced opinions that members of law enforcement and others find offensive.

Jones, a 33-year veteran and president of the New Jersey State Troopers Fraternal Association, explained to the White House official – whom he wouldn’t name – who Joanne Chesmard is.

“She’s a domestic terrorist who wrapped her criminality and her abhorrent anti social behavior in a cause to try to disguise her disgust for America in this make believe 1960s radicalism,” Jones told ABC News Wednesday morning. “In 1973 she executed Trooper Werner Foerster with his own gun after he was already shot and didn’t represent a threat to anyone. And after she shot him she kicked him in the head to the point that hours later after he was picked up his brain was still part of the remnants on her shoe.”

Common has a different take: “Assata had been convicted of a murder she couldna done,” Common rapped. “Medical evidence shown she couldna shot the gun….I wonder what would happen if that woulda been me/All of this sh*t so we could be free./Yeah, I often wonder what would happen if that woulda been me? /All of this sh*t so we could be free, so dig it, people.”

The song also features Cee-Lo singing “I'm thinkin' of Assata, yeah./Listen to my love, Assata, yeah./Your power and pride, so beautiful… /May God bless your soul.”

Chesimard was a member of the Black Liberation Army who was wanted for her involvement in felonies including bank robbery. On May 2, 1973, Chesimard was stopped for a motor vehicle violation on the New Jersey Turnpike by two State Troopers; according to the FBI,  she and her two accomplices opened fire on the State Troopers, wounding one and killing the other.

In 1977, Chesimard was found guilty of first degree murder, assault and battery of a police officer, assault with a dangerous weapon, assault with intent to kill, illegal possession of a weapon, and armed robbery, and was sentenced to life in prison. In November 1979, she escaped from prison and now lives in Cuba.
In a Def Poetry Jam poem, Common said, “flyers say ‘free Mumia’ on my freezer,” a reference to cause célèbre Mumia Abu-Jamal, convicted of killing Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981, whose supporters maintain his innocence.

Jones doesn’t like Common, but his main issue with Common coming to the White House, he says, is that this is Police Week in Washington, DC. In a vigil on Friday, Jones will add the name of a fallen trooper — Marc Castellano, 29, hit by a car in June 2010 – to the Law Enforcement Memorial.

“Of all the times for the president to have this nitwit in the White House reading his vitriolic nonsense…” Jones says, his voice trailing off.

Some of Common’s defenders argue that he is not condoning or calling for violence against police officers, but rather voicing the frustration many in the African-American community, particularly young men, have with law enforcement.

White House officials did not respond to a request for comment. Common responded to the controversy on his twitter page, tweeting yesterday “So apparently Sarah Palin and Fox News doesn't like me.” When someone tweeted to him “Id be more concerned if she DID like you. Congrats on getting the invite,” Common replied “LOL,” for 'laughing out loud.'

Common — Lonnie Rashid Lynn, Jr. — is not known as a gangsta rapper, or particularly hard core, having appeared on the UPN series “Girlfriends,” the Tina Fey-Steve Carrell vehicle “Date Night,” and starred in the Queen Latifah romantic comedy “Just Wright.” He’s appeared in ads for The Gap and PETA, and is featured in the Jonas Brothers song "Don't Charge Me for the Crime.”

One JET profile called Common a “conscious rapper,” since his work of late has avoided the 50 Cent mold and focused instead on subjects like fatherhood, personal growth, and the African-American community.

But Common has his critics, especially since the conservative website the Daily Caller found an appearance he made at a Def Poetry Jam in which, in character as a kid from the street, Common recites “A Letter to the Law.” 
“Tell the law, my Uzi weighs a ton/I walk like a warrior,/from them I won’t run,” Common says.

 

At another point he says: “Seeing a fiend being hung/With that happening, why they messing with Saddam?/Burn a Bush cos’ for peace he no push no button/Killing over oil and grease/no weapons of destruction/How can we follow a leader when this a corrupt one/The government’s a g-unit and they might buck young black people/Black people In the urban area one/I hold up a peace sign, but I carry a gun.”

Former Gov. Sarah Palin tweeted in response: “Oh lovely, White House…,” with a link to the Daily Caller story.

On Tuesday night, former White House political guru Karl Rove criticized Common as a “thug” and interpreted the “Burn a Bush” line as a call for the assassination of President George W. Bush. 
Rove also called Common a “misogynist,” pointing a reporter to the lyrics of the song “Baby, I’m Selfish.”

Update:

See reaction from White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, who condemned some of Common's lyrics, but defended his body of work, and Common, who posted on Facebook that "Politics is politics" and his support for police and troops should not be questioned.

-Jake Tapper

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