Sunday, October 7, 2007
Journalist Chauncey Bailey infused black pride into his work for more than three decades, writing hundreds of stories about Oakland's African American community, developing relationships with the city's key players and hosting black cable television news shows.
When he landed the job as editor of the Oakland Post in June, the African American newspaper seemed the perfect fit for Bailey's signature outspoken and crusading style.
Then on Aug. 2, two weeks after he wrote a story about problems at Your Black Muslim Bakery - an organization once hailed as a symbol of black empowerment - Bailey was dead.
As he walked to work from his flat near Lake Merritt at 7:30 a.m., a walk he made every morning, a masked gunman walked up and shot him execution style.
Bailey, 57, became the first journalist assassinated in this country since 1993 - according to the Committee to Protect Journalists - his death the likely result of a chance encounter between two of his sources and a careless journalistic slip.
SENSE OF MISSION
B ailey's life as a journalist began on a paper route.
On Christmas Eve in 1960, the boy and his family moved from East Oakland to Hayward. Many black families later followed that suburban migration, but at the time, Bailey's was the only black family on their block.
The middle-schooler got an after-school job delivering the Hayward Daily Review. One day, a white customer called to complain that he didn't want a black boy delivering his paper.
" 'I decided that day that I was going to be a journalist,' " Bailey said later, according to his ex-wife, Robin Hardin.
Bailey determined that he would use the printed word to break through racial barriers. "People would have to read what he wrote if they were black or white ... because they wouldn't know if he was black or white," Hardin said.
That sense of mission propelled Bailey through a career that began on the Hayward High School newspaper. He studied at Merritt College in Oakland and earned a bachelor's degree in journalism at San Jose State University in 1972, then worked at the Oakland Post and San Francisco's Sun Reporter, both African American community papers.
He moved on to jobs at the Detroit News, the Hartford Courant and United Press International. In the 1990s, he returned to the East Bay to cover East Oakland for the Oakland Tribune.
Bailey had a distinctive way of reporting the news using a variety of media outlets, including mainstream newspapers, community publications and cable television. He had a show on the black-owned cable channel Soul Beat and later helped co-found OUR TV, a leased cable channel that aired six hours a night targeted at black audiences in the Bay Area.
Bailey used everyday images of African American life to paint a picture of Oakland's black community that he believed other reporters missed. He wrote on African American subjects ranging from cowboys to theater to a mugging victim-turned-activist. On his Soul Beat show, he interviewed black business owners, politicians and victims of racism.
"He lived an advocate role," said Joseph Debro, a colleague of Bailey's at the Post. "He didn't do things just because he got paid or to make a living. He was totally immersed in the distribution of news events."
Bailey's persistence in news reporting made him a public figure in Oakland and a familiar face among politicians as well as the city's influential African Americans - including Yusuf Bey, the founder of Your Black Muslim Bakery.
A REPORTER'S ACCESS
F or years, Bey was a prominent person in Oakland, praised for giving discipline and jobs to poor, disenfranchised black men. He had a thriving business network: seven bakery outlets, security guard companies and a property management firm.
Family and observers have said Bey's charisma and control over his family was unique, binding together the businesses, an economic gospel of self-sufficiency and a complicated family of an estimated 40 children through 17 different women.
No reporter knew Bey and his family better than Bailey.
Bey respected Bailey and gave him access that no other journalist had, said Saleem Bey, the late Bey's son-in-law.
"If you were anywhere in the hierarchy of the bakery, you knew Chauncey on a first-name basis," Saleem Bey said. "Chauncey was very much a friend to the community, but particularly the black community."
In 2002, Oakland police arrested Yusuf Bey on charges of raping four underage girls.
Bailey was one of a number of reporters who covered the scandal. His stories in the Oakland Tribune - which laid out the allegations but also repeatedly quoted supporters saying Bey was targeted because of his Muslim ties and his work to fight discrimination - prompted conflicting reactions from other journalists and Bey's heirs.
In a November 2002 exposé on the rape accusations and other crimes allegedly committed by the Bey family, a writer in the weekly East Bay Express criticized the Oakland Tribune, citing stories by Bailey, for continuing to characterize bakery leaders and associates as "legitimate, even noble leaders of their community."
Though Saleem Bey said he thought Bailey's coverage was fair and objective, the stories were considered out of line by others within the bakery. After the bakery's current chief executive officer, Yusuf Bey IV, was arrested in August on kidnapping charges, he told investigators that Bailey had "slandered" his father in connection with the rape arrest, according to a source familiar with the case who asked not to be quoted by name because of the sensitivity of the investigation.
Still, Bailey remained in contact with the Bey family and wrote Yusuf Bey's obituary when he died of colon cancer in 2003 while awaiting trial.
But the reporter apparently didn't grasp the severity of the family's problems after the death of its leader, Saleem Bey said.
Within months, disaffected family members began complaining that control of the bakery business had been seized by son Antar Bey, a former member of his father's security detail who in 2004 made himself the bakery's chief executive, Saleem Bey said.
The takeover came three days after the disappearance of the elder Bey's designated successor, longtime business manager Waajid Aljawwaad Bey, who was later found slain. Saleem Bey and other family members accused Antar Bey of arranging Aljawwaad's killing, looting the Bey family corporation's real estate and bank accounts and firing 60 Bey family members from their bakery jobs, according to a letter Saleem Bey said he gave to Alameda County prosecutors.
After Antar Bey was killed in 2005 in what authorities said was an attempted carjacking, his brother Yusuf Bey IV, then 19, took charge. The pattern of misconduct continued, the disaffected family members said.
Two years ago, Bailey ran into Saleem Bey on a downtown Oakland street and the reporter asked for the latest news.
"The bakery was taken in a coup," Bey said he told Bailey.
Bailey's eyes sparkled. "Let me know when I can write a story about it," he said.
B efore he and Saleem Bey met again, Bailey's life and career went through an upheaval.
His numerous journalism jobs sometimes led to a blurring of roles. Bailey would conduct business for his Soul Beat show from his desk at the Tribune, said reporter Glenn Chapman, who sat next to Bailey for seven years.
Bailey also pushed ethical lines, routinely writing stories about Soul Beat for the newspaper when he was also the station's news director, and using the pages of the paper to promote his girlfriend's business without disclosing the tie to his editors.
In 2005, Bailey was fired from the Tribune after he wrote a letter on Tribune stationery to resolve a personal dispute with the Department of Motor Vehicles.
By all accounts, Bailey was crushed when he lost his job.
He traveled to Vietnam and the Caribbean. He wrote freelance stories for the Post and was hired as a reporter at the African American-owned Globe Newspapers, which circulate in Berkeley and Richmond. In June, he was offered the Post's editor position.
"Fate had finally given him a slot where he could be just that advocate for the African American community and its betterment that he'd been aspiring to be all those years, juggling all those balls," Chapman said.
Bailey seemed to feel redeemed and more relaxed, friends and colleagues said. He let his hair grow out into short dreadlocks and some days wore bright-colored shirts instead of his trademark business suit.
"I had never seen him more exuberant than when he was working in the black media," said Sandy Close, executive director of New America Media, an association of more than 700 ethnic media organizations. "It was really his passion."
AN ANONYMOUS SOURCE
O n July 16, Bailey ran into Saleem Bey on 14th Street in Oakland. By then, the bakery business was in financial collapse and Saleem Bey was on a mission to tell as many people as possible that the bakery's fall was due to an illegal and hostile takeover by some family members.
Yusuf Bey IV wasn't making payments on the $625,000 mortgage on the bakery's headquarters, according to court records, and the bakery owed the Internal Revenue Service more than $200,000 in back taxes. Bey IV had filed for bankruptcy, hoping to stave off his creditors.
Saleem Bey and his allies tried to stop the bankruptcy proceeding, concerned that to pay off the debt, the judge might order an auction of the bakery's assets - property that they claimed was rightfully theirs.
Saleem Bey said he went to the police, and asked Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, and Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums to intervene. When he encountered Bailey on the street that day, he was finally ready to talk.
The two men headed up to the Post's office for an hourlong interview.
Saleem Bey said he told Bailey about what he considered a "hijacking" of control of the bakery and the crisis posed by the bankruptcy filing.
Bailey was interested. Saleem Bey said they agreed that he would be an anonymous source and Bailey would write the story without a byline, to further protect Saleem Bey's confidentiality. As he left the newsroom, Bey said he ran into an Oakland Post employee named Nisayah Yahudah, a friend of the Bey family who sometimes visited the bakery.
By Saleem Bey's account, she asked Bey what brought him to the newspaper, and he told her, falsely, he was talking to Bailey for a story about computers. Yahudah no longer works at the Post, according to Publisher Paul Cobb, who said that she had been friends with the Bey family for over 30 years. The Chronicle could not locate her.
Three hours later, after Saleem Bey had returned home, his wife's cell phone rang. Word had already gone through the grapevine that Saleem Bey had talked to Bailey about the bakery.
Bey said he called Bailey and asked angrily how he could let his name slip out.
Bailey said Yahudah had asked him about his interview - and he had confided that he planned to write about the bakery.
"I don't think he understood the gravity of his mistake," Saleem Bey said.
Bailey later "apologized for opening up to Nisa. He knew her in passing from his visits to the bakery and thought she could offer insight" for the story, Saleem Bey said.
Bailey wrote the story, and it was laid out for publication. But a page designer asked Cobb to take a look at it.
Cobb said the story made him nervous because there were no named sources, and it referenced a killing involving the bakery and its bankruptcy.
Cobb said he worried about the credibility of the story because Saleem Bey, its only source, wanted to be anonymous and had asked that the story run before an upcoming court hearing. He had also made references to killings within the family.
Cobb said he told Bailey: "All these references to people who had been killed, we need some (named) attribution."
The publisher said he asked Bailey to balance out the story by interviewing current bakery leader, Yusuf Bey IV, and Bailey promised to do that in future articles.
"I said, 'No, we want them in the body of the story to show we can be fair,' " Cobb said he told Bailey.
Cobb decided to hold the story.
On July 19, Bailey called Saleem Bey to tell him it wouldn't be running.
That was the last time Saleem Bey and Bailey spoke.
On July 30, three days before Bailey was killed, Saleem Bey said he received a cell phone call from an unknown number. The caller said, "Keep my name out your mouth." Saleem Bey said he recognized the voice to be that of Yusuf Bey IV.
S aleem Bey didn't even think about the story again until Aug. 2, when a family member called him.
"Turn on the news," he was told. "Chauncey Bailey has been murdered."
Bailey was killed just before 7:30 a.m. that day as he walked to work - a stack of newspapers under his arm.
Wearing a ski mask, the killer walked up behind Bailey, shot him in the back and in the head, started to walk away, and then returned seconds later and shot him again, authorities said. The gunman then fled in a white van without any license plates, witnesses told police.
The next day, authorities raided Your Black Muslim Bakery's headquarters on San Pablo Avenue and arrested Bey IV and two members of his entourage on suspicion of kidnapping and other crimes. Bakery handyman Devaughndre Broussard, 19, was also arrested and accused of Bailey's killing. According to police, after a jailhouse meeting with Bey IV, Broussard confessed to killing Bailey because of the stories he had written and was working on. Broussard's attorney now says the confession is invalid because it was coerced.
Bailey's last story on the bakery has still not been published.
Martin Reynolds, managing editor of the Oakland Tribune, is one of many journalists who lamented that Bailey never got the chance to finish the series.
"Chauncey had a real strong sense of purpose, a duty in covering the community. He covered the community with a chip on his shoulder and would get frustrated with our approach," Reynolds said, explaining that Bailey's style of advocacy journalism was out of place at a mainstream newspaper.
"He wanted to do more and be bolder in some of the things he took on. That's why the Post was such a good place for him to end up. It was a really good thing that was cut short."
This article appeared on page A - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle