NEW YORK (AP) — When Harry Belafonte asked Common to participate in a benefit concert in support of freeing Native American activist Leonard Peltier, who is serving two life sentences for the 1975 execution-style deaths of two FBI agents, he did some research before giving his answer.
"I did my own due diligence," Common said in a telephone interview Thursday with The Associated Press.
He decided to participate Friday in the "Bring Leonard Peltier Home Concert" at New York's Beacon Theatre, joining a lineup that includes Belafonte, Jackson Browne, Pete Seeger and others.
"If I can really help a man be free from something he was accused of and is innocent and wants to be with his family, I can't get up there and say I can't do this because I may have a chance to get more record sales, or this film company is not going to decide to use me," the 40-year-old rapper-actor said of his decision.
The concert is being held to raise awareness of Peltier's plea for clemency. Peltier has maintained that he was framed by the FBI for the deaths of Jack Coler and Ronald Williams, shot execution-style during a standoff on a South Dakota Indian reservation. He has appealed his conviction several times but has been denied. The 68-year-old was last denied parole in 2009 and won't be eligible again until 2024. His advocates say he has been in poor health in recent years.
Common is no stranger to standing up for what he believes, even when it's controversial. In 2000, he recorded "A Song for Assata" on behalf of Assata Shakur, formerly JoAnne Chesimard. She was convicted in the 1973 slaying of a New Jersey State trooper but escaped from prison and is believed to be living in Cuba.
The recording artist says he's not soft on crime and feels that convicted criminals should serve their time "in respect to the system." But he also feels that when someone is unjustly convicted "it's up to all of us to find the truth."
Peltier's story has been the subject of several films, most notably the Michael Apted documentary, "Incident at Oglala," narrated by Robert Redford. Songs about him include "Native Son" by U2 and "Freedom" by Rage Against the Machine.
Peltier is an author and artist, and has continued his activism behind bars.
John Carucci covers entertainment for The Associated Press. Follow him at http://www.twitter.com/jcarucci_ap