NJ State Police "Outraged" Over Rapper Invite to White House

By Brian Thompson and Marcus Riley
|  Thursday, May 12, 2011  |  Updated 12:09 PM EDT
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Despite controversy, rapper Common performed at the White House.

The White House

Despite controversy, rapper Common performed at the White House.

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White House Spokesman Jay Carney on the controversial decision to invite the rapper Common to participate in a poetry event.

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The invitation of rapper Common to the White House this week is drawing the ire of the union representing New Jersey state police.

While even casual hip-hop fans wouldn't characterize him as a controversial rapper, Common found himself under the microscope after First Lady Michelle Obama invited him to the White House for an arts event. In question: the lyrics to "A Song for Assata," about convicted cop-killer and former Black Panther Assata Shakur.

The White House said Wednesday it stood by the decision to invite Common. Press Secretary Jay Carney said the conservative backlash distorts what Common stands for, and added that the president appreciates Common's work with children in Chicago.

FOX News and Sarah Palin condemned the decision after the Daily Caller published some of Common's lyrics, including some that criticize former President George W. Bush.

For New Jersey police, the outrage centers on "A Song for Assata" lyrics like "Your power and pride is beautiful. May God bless your soul."

Shakur, formerly known as Joanne Chesimard, was convicted for the 1973 slaying of Trooper Werner Foerster on the New Jersey Turnpike. She escaped prison in 1979, and is living in asylum in Cuba.

"The young people who read this stuff, hear this stuff, are getting a very dangerous and deadly message,"  David Jones, president of the State Troopers Fraternal Association union, said on Tuesday.

After the union made the case on Tuesday, the New Jersey State Police itself issued a statement on the controversy on Wednesday.

"We cannot dictate who is invited to the White House, but we will always view Joanne Chesimard as a fugitive who killed one of our own," Major Gerald Lewis, spokesman for the state police said in a statement. "We will continue our pursuit of her until she is brought to justice."

Known for being more of a brainy poet type than a thug or a gangster, Common seemed to be amused by the dust-up Tuesday, tweeting and retweeting the various news items, such as FOX News' description of him as a "vile rapper." 

He also tweeted, "So apparently Sarah Palin and Fox News doesn't like me."

The White House appearance comes during the same week that lawmen from across the nation, including Jones, make their annual trek to Washington to honor their fallen comrades at the National Law Enforcement Memorial.

Sal Maggio, a retired troop commander with the state police, said his colleagues still talk about Shakur and the million dollar bounty the FBI has put on her capture.

"Hopefully someday she'll be caught," Maggio said in reaction to news of this invitation.

Common, who is also a successful actor, is known as one of the most lyrically poetic rappers. Last month he appeared in Chicago for a charity event for his foundation, honoring legendary author and poet Maya Angelou.

Neither Jones nor Maggio believe the president or first lady are fully aware of Common's song about Shakur, though the rapper did appear at campaign events for Obama when he ran for president.

"I like the president and first lady," said Maggio. "I think he's doing a pretty good job lately."

A representative for Common could not be reached.

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