Once again, we have an association controversy at the White House. This week, a rapper who calls himself “Common” was invited by Michelle Obama to read some of his “poetry” to a handpicked audience in the “People’s House.” The problem is that Common (real name Lonnie Rashid Lynn) has glorified convicted cop killers Joanne Chesimard and Mumia Abu-Jamal.
You may remember that Chesimard, a member of the Black Liberation Army, was found guilty of first-degree murder in 1977 for killing New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster. After being stopped on the New Jersey Turnpike, Chesimard and two accomplices opened fire on Foerster and his partner, James Harper, who was wounded.
Chesimard was sentenced to life in prison but escaped in 1979, fleeing to Cuba where she has been granted asylum.
Even though Common wasn’t yet born when that murder took place, he has insisted in his raps that Chesimard is innocent. He has said the same thing about Abu-Jamal, who was convicted of killing Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981.
While Common is entitled to rap any way he wants, it is troubling that he would be sought out by the administration for a prestigious exposition. Is this not a tacit endorsement of the man? White House Press Secretary Jay Carney says no, explaining that sympathy for cop killers is not “the sum total of this particular artist’s work.”
The number of poets who would like to read their work at the White House is almost unlimited. It is a huge honor. Among those reading with Common were Steve Martin and Elizabeth Alexander. Surely the first lady could have chosen a more appropriate artist than Common.
Once again, we have a judgment issue. Many police agencies across the country are outraged by the embrace the White House has given Common, and I submit that millions of Americans are not comfortable with the selection, either.
I have been a fan of Mrs. Obama during her tenure as first lady. She has brought grace and dignity to the White House. Her campaign to fight child obesity is right on, and I have personally witnessed Mrs. Obama going out of her way to show great kindness to regular folks.
But both Barack and Michelle Obama have a blind spot when it comes to social controversy. The Rev. Wright situation was obviously disturbing. Then, on Easter Sunday, the first couple sat in a church where the cleric, a known verbal bomb-thrower, sermonized about slavery injustice. Now, the questionable Common.
The black experience in America is far different from the white experience, and honest people understand that. But the president and first lady represent all of us and should always be aware of sensitivities. Common may be the best rapper on Earth, but his words have brought pain to the families and friends of two slain police officers.
That is enough to disqualify the man from a White House honor.