Is Chauncey Bailey the Last Victim of Oakland's Muslim Bakery Mob?
Death came for Chauncey Bailey just after breakfast. The new editor of the Oakland Post had a morning routine of strolling to his office in downtown Oakland. Each day he took the same route and stopped at the same McDonald's. So it was easy for his killer to find him.
At around 7.30am on 2 August, as Bailey walked down Oakland's 14th Street, a young black man got out of a white van and approached him. He stepped quickly forward, hefted up a shotgun and blasted him in the chest. As Bailey lay dying, the man shot him again, then turned and ran a few steps, before stopping and coming back. He took aim once more before firing a third and final time. Then he fled.
One of black America's most successful journalists had been murdered in broad daylight. The crime sent shock waves through Oakland that rippled into the rest of the country. Then came the real surprise: it emerged that Bailey had been investigating a local group of radical black Muslims, digging into their finances and reputation for violence. Bailey had been killed for a story. But this was not Moscow. Or Burma. Nor some tinpot African dictatorship. This was Oakland, California. This is America, where no journalist has been murdered because of their work for more than 30 years.
Bailey's killing was clearly no common crime. It was the culmination of a series of extraordinary events. In some ways it was the last defiant spasm of the radical politics of the Sixties that brought Oakland infamy as the birthplace of black nationalism and the Black Panthers. It was also the product of a city that in some areas has plunged into the depths of crime, drugs and despair. And of a city so keen to promote itself that it ignored the brutal criminal gang operating in its midst under the guise of a religious organization. For decades, Oakland has turned a blind eye to the huge black ghettos that define many of its suburbs. They are grim, festering places of drugs and shootings, they are places the city wants to forget. Bailey's death was a reminder of this "Other Oakland," the city beyond the fancy bars and fine restaurants of a freshly prospering -- and increasingly white -- downtown.
Not that Bailey had forgotten them. While living in a tough Oakland neighborhood, he had once boasted that he could lean out his window and "see the news." In a modern age of mindless TV sound bites and celebrity-obsessed newspapers, Bailey stood out a mile. He lived and breathed his job. He was an old-fashioned journalist; a crusading reporter. And it was this that got him killed.
Colin McEnroe read about Bailey's murder in The New York Times. They had known each other for almost 30 years, having met when Bailey worked a stint at the Hartford Courant in Connecticut. McEnroe remembers his former colleague as a serious, dedicated young reporter. "Chauncey was still being Chauncey even after all that time," he tells me. "Journalists just think their profession makes them impervious. Nobody actually kills reporters, do they? Well, guess what? It turns out they do."
That Bailey's killing happened in Oakland was perhaps no surprise. The city has always been San Francisco's darker twin, brooding on the opposite side of the bay. During the '60s, as San Francisco grew world-famous for the Summer of Love, Oakland exploded with radical politics and black power. It was on these troubled streets that the Black Panthers were born, gun-wielding militants who inspired America's blacks as much as they terrified its whites. This was where the radical Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) prowled. While hippies preached free love in San Francisco, the SLA was kidnapping Patty Hearst and murdering Oakland school officials with bullets dipped in cyanide.
It was also Bailey's home town. Born in 1949 in East Oakland, Bailey was one of five children. It was a measure of the city, and of the times, that Bailey once asked a teacher whether he should become a Black Panther or a journalist. It was also a measure of Bailey's attitude that he thought both were vehicles for helping the black community. That philosophy was to define his life. Bailey chose journalism not street politics. As his career took off, he found himself crisscrossing the US. He went to Hartford in Connecticut, where he worked on the local paper. This was followed by stints in Washington and Chicago, and then 10 years in Detroit before, finally, he returned to Oakland, where he worked on the local black television channel, Soul Beat, the Oakland Tribune and eventually the Post. At each stop on his journey, Bailey showed the same drive: crusading on black issues and a dogged determination to get the story. In Detroit, he had a famously testy relationship with the city's mayor, Coleman Young. Bob Berg, the mayor's former press secretary, who would speak movingly at a Detroit memorial in Bailey's honor, remembers Bailey angrily pursuing the mayor through the city's airport. "I can't even remember the dispute, but we got into an elevator and the mayor's security had to restrain him from going for Chauncey. Finally, the doors started to close and Chauncey did not try to get in. When the doors were shut, everyone in the elevator breathed a sigh of relief."
Chauncey also made his journalism deeply personal. He mentored black kids in the profession, visiting local schools. And when he wrote up a story he would often take its characters under his wing. Chakay McDonald knew all about that. She met Bailey through a friend and he became intrigued by her plans to start a restaurant chain. "There weren't very many African-American women of my age trying to start businesses. He wanted to support me," McDonald says. Bailey wrote several business pieces about her. Then, after her first store opened, he became a regular customer. Now McDonald has just opened her fourth outlet. "He really helped me when it was tough," she says. "He told me he believed in this community. He never gave up trying to make a difference. Regardless of the crime and the ways these kids here grow up."
There is no doubt that growing up black in Oakland can be hard. The ghettos stretch to the north, east and west. Gun crime, gang violence and drugs are a way of life. It was here that Your Black Muslim Bakery flourished: the organization that Bailey was to investigate and which, in turn, would bring about his death.
The curious name, mixing the religious and the homespun, described an organization founded in 1968 by Texas-born Joseph Stevens. An Air Force veteran, Stevens had, by the '60s, drifted into California and fallen sway to the black power message of the Nation of Islam. Stevens -- renamed Yusuf Bey -- quickly broke with the Nation and founded the Bakery. His followers became famous for their discipline, neat uniform of suits and bow ties, and their willingness to use force. New members studied The Godfather to inspire them. The Bakery was a success, selling pastries and pies, and became the hub of a small business empire, starting up other branches and expanding into apartment control, security and dry-cleaning.
Bey became a leading member of the black community. In a city used to radicalism, his curious beliefs did not deter city authorities. They lent him money for community projects and praised his leadership. The Bakery appeared in tourist brochures. It even supplied the upmarket Wholefoods chain. While Bey posed as a leader of black Oakland, his organization intimidated blacks with street muscle and accused white critics of being racist.
It worked. Yet the Bakery also masked a brutal crime empire that was more street gang than devout gathering. In fact, Bey never held religious ceremonies. His cronies beat, tortured and extorted money from local residents. In 1994 several top Bakery members were taken to court for beating a Nigerian man at gunpoint and burning him with hot knives after a real-estate deal went wrong. By 2002, as Bey fell ill with cancer, he was facing a slew of criminal charges, including the rape and sodomy of four young girls, one his own foster daughter. Bey had also reneged on a $1.1m loan from City Hall for a healthcare project -- he refused to pay it back when the scheme failed to get off the ground.
Not that Oakland officials appeared to care. As late as 2002, Bey received an astonishing letter from Don Perata, president of the California State Senate, who wrote: "The leadership you provide should be an inspiration to all concerned over the city's future." But then all the Bakery's victims -- whether local business owners, young women on the streets, or rival gangsters -- were poor, black and powerless. And if Bey did not care for them, neither did the city. "Politicians in general are loath to do due diligence on people who are their supporters. They don't really care and the people you are messing with are the powerless," says Askia Muhammad, who was active in the Nation of Islam in the '70s and watched Bey's group grow from obscure sect to criminal gang.
Chauncey Bailey, however, was not powerless. He also cared. Ironically, he and Bey spent time working on the same television channel, Soul Beat. The black-orientated station gave a weekly show to Bey, while Bailey worked variously on programmes from news to a soap opera. Luenell Campbell -- an Oakland actor best known for playing a prostitute in the Borat movie -- remembers Bey and his entourage arriving at Soul Beat's studios. "I was very aware of a 'don't fuck with them' policy. We would talk in hushed tones, Chauncey would have been better to leave them fools alone," she says.
But by 2005, Bailey was starting to investigate the group following a series of arrests after Bakery members smashed up liquor stores in Oakland. The Bakery of 2005 was in turmoil. Bey died of cancer in 2002, before his sex crimes case had come to court. But he had left behind at least 42 children, some of whom embarked on a bloody battle for power.
It was a feud that appears to have culminated in murder, in autumn 2003. Six months later, in spring 2004, a body was found in the Oakland Hills. The corpse turned out to be Waajid Bey, head of the Bakery's security company. He had disappeared six months earlier, at the time another Bakery member, Antar Bey, seemed to take control of the group. Yet Antar, too, was soon shot dead. The next move saw Yusuf Bey IV seize power. Under Bey IV the Bakery spun out of control. It started losing huge amounts of money and eventually filed for bankruptcy. At the same time, Bey IV regularly tangled with the police. He was arrested over the liquor store attacks; then, in 2006, he tried to run someone over after being kicked out of a strip club. He was arrested on at least four other occasions. Finally, in April 2007, Bey IV was allegedly involved in the kidnapping and torture of a young woman and her mother.
Bailey walked straight into this. He also had a source in the middle of the action, Ali Saleem Bey, a disaffected member of the Bakery. For two years, he met Bailey in secret, leaking details of the Bakery's finances and inner workings. It was journalistic gold and Bailey, appointed editor of the Oakland Post in June 2007, approached his publisher, Paul Cobb, about running the story. It was around then that Bailey started getting death threats, including one the week before he died. Was Bailey afraid of the Bakery? His friends believe he was not. "He would pursue a story to the end. He was dogged," says Luther Keith, who worked with Bailey at the Detroit News. Besides, few thought the threats were serious. "Never in my wildest nightmares would I have thought they would blow his brains out in the middle of the street, in the middle of the community," says Luenell Campbell.
One man who was aware of just how far the Bakery would go was Chris Thompson, who spent 20 years as a journalist in Oakland for the East Bay Express. In 2002, Thompson wrote a piece lifting the lid on the criminal world of the Bakery and its links to some of Oakland's prominent citizens. "They are people who are capable of some terrible things," Thompson says. After his piece ran, Thompson received death threats. Phone messages said simply: "Your time is up." Bakery members waited outside his offices, forcing him to stay away from his apartment. The newspaper's windows were shattered by bricks. Thompson fled, hiding out in a cabin in the Sierra Nevada mountains for three months. "It is not the death threat that I mind," he says. "It's the credible death threat."
Thompson's experience should have warned Bailey of the danger. Perhaps he did not care. "He was very intense. He was fearless," says Bob Berg. Certainly Bailey seemed keen to get the story out whatever the consequences. Cobb, the newspaper publisher, told Bailey his story needed more work. He kept on digging.
On the morning of his death, things looked good for Chauncey Bailey. It seemed he had finally settled down. He was living with his fiancee, local artist Deborah Oduwa, and the couple were thinking about trying for a child. As a known ladies man and already once divorced, that must have been a big step. He was also, finally, editor of a newspaper. The Oakland Post may not have been the biggest paper in the world, but Bailey was the boss. At last he had his own forum for his causes and passions.
That all came to an abrupt end on 2 August. Bailey rose just after 6am. He said goodbye to Oduwa and took his usual stroll into work. Unknown to him, he was already being hunted. Police believe a member of the Bakery had tried to get to Bailey the previous night, going to his apartment but finding the journalist was not at home. But that morning a white Ford Aerostar van was circling the neighbourhood. Inside was the shooter. At first he missed Bailey. At 7:17 am, a bus driver spotted a black man wielding a shotgun outside Bailey's building. But by the time police arrived, he had vanished.
The shooter was now circling the blocks around the Post's newsroom. By that time, Bailey was grabbing a coffee and breakfast at the McDonald's on 14th Street. He finished and walked out along a stretch of pavement by the city post office. That was when he was spotted. The killer, wearing a black ski mask and black clothes, got out of the van and walked forward. The attack was swift and brutal. Bailey, seeing the shotgun brandished in front of him, had time to plead for his life. "Please don't kill me,' he said. The assassin fired into his chest, sending Bailey slumping to the ground.
After firing twice more, the assailant fled to the van and drove away as stunned pedestrians ran to Bailey's prone body. He was already dead; half his head had been blown away. The news swiftly hit the wires and spread rapidly across America. The first reaction of many was to suspect a grudge killing. Bailey's personal life had always been colorful. "He loved women, but women did not always love him," says Luenell Campbell. As night fell in Oakland, the city mourned the brutal death of one of its favourite black sons, but most had little reason to think that anything more than a crime of passion had occurred.
Then came the police raid on the Bakery. At 5am on 3 August -- less than 24 hours after Bailey had been shot -- more than 200 heavily-armed police sealed off roads around the Bakery's headquarters on San Pablo Avenue and at four other locations around Oakland. Then police officers, including elite Swat teams, smashed down doors, tossed smoke grenades through windows and broke their way in. They were not, officially, looking for Bailey's killer. The raids were apparently long-planned and prompted by the investigation into the kidnapping and torture of the young woman and her mother several months earlier. But, in the confusion and darkness, someone spotted a man throwing a shotgun out of a window of a house next to the Bakery. That man was DeVaughndre Broussard, a young Bakery handyman. He was 19 and had a previous conviction for assault. He was taken in for questioning and the gun picked up for forensics. The next day, as Oakland adjusted to the news of the link between Bailey's death and the Bakery, Broussard confessed. He told interrogators he had killed Bailey because he did not like the way he was digging into the organization's finances. When the shells found near Bailey's body matched that of the shotgun at the Bakery, the truth seemed obvious. Broussard was charged.
In a city where murder is an almost daily occurrence, where the killers of black men frequently go uncaught, Bailey's murderer had been arrested in less than 24 hours. And he confessed in less than two days.
Your Black Muslim Bakery now stands empty and all but destroyed. The busy traffic on San Pablo roars by a building wearing wooden boards across its broken windows like bandages. Baking trays are scattered in the yard. Across its front, a real estate agent's sign proclaims: For Sale.
For a city that for so long tolerated the Bakery's robberies and tortures, the rush to crush it after the raids, and Broussard's confession, were swift and total. The Bakery is bankrupt and up for sale. Yusuf Bey IV and several other key leaders are in jail on kidnapping charges. Broussard is awaiting a murder trial. To add insult to injury, the Bakery has even been declared unsanitary by the city health department, casting a pall over the pies that were once sold city-wide and touted for their nutritional benefits.
To many, the haste has been unseemly. There is relief that the Bakery has gone, but concern that it was only when Bailey, a member of the black establishment, was killed that City Hall and the police turned on it. The Bakery spent three decades in the ghetto, raping, beating and brutalising poor black residents. And it was lauded and applauded for its social work. But the day after it killed a journalist, the hammer came down. 'As long as the underclass was being killed no one cared. But this really jolted all the upper levels of Oakland society,' says Ishmael Reed, an Oakland writer who has chronicled his city's turmoils.
Indeed, Bailey's death created just the sort of headlines Oakland has been recently avoiding. Its crime rate is still shocking -- with a population of just 400,000 it had more than 80 murders by the end of this summer, and 145 in total last year -- but these deaths are localised in the shrinking ghettos. The fact is, Oakland is changing fast. Artists, lawyers and young families -- mostly white or Asian -- have been priced out of San Francisco and have moved across the bay. New apartment buildings are sprouting up. Oakland sees itself as a city on the up. The killing of Chauncey Bailey needed to be solved, fast. And so it was.
Or was it? Mystery still surrounds Bailey's murder. In Oakland things are never as simple as they look, especially in a black community long sceptical of the police force that patrols it.
Certainly something odd happened with Broussard's confession. His admission to killing Bailey came only after police took the astonishing step of allowing Yusuf Bey IV into the interrogation room. They then left Bey IV and Broussard alone together, with no microphones to record their conversation. Before their "chat" Broussard denied the murder, saying he had been asleep at the Bakery. After speaking to Bey IV, he suddenly claimed to have been smoking crack cocaine and driving around in the van hunting for the journalist.
It is also a confession that has since been withdrawn. Broussard's lawyer, LeRue Grim, now says Yusuf Bey IV urged Broussard to take the fall and be a 'good soldier' for the Bakery. Grim says Broussard was, in fact, just hiding the shotgun for others in the Bakery. If this is true, who did kill Bailey? After all, several witnesses say they saw the hitman get into the passenger side of the getaway van before it sped away. Is Broussard a fall guy for the real killers?
But there is another mystery, too. The police raid of 3 August was prompted not by Bailey's death but by a long investigation into the earlier kidnappings. That probe, which probably involved informers inside the Bakery, was also investigating two other murders now linked to Bakery members. How did the police monitoring the Bakery so closely fail to detect a conspiracy to kill one of the city's best-known journalists?
Then there is one final twist to the tale. Bailey was also investigating allegations of corruption in the Oakland Police. "That's the real deal," says the Post's publisher Paul Cobb, after confirming that Bailey had been investigating the police. In Oakland this is no small matter. Five years ago a group of rogue Oakland cops, dubbed "the Rough Riders," ran amok in the city's black community and were accused of planting evidence, falsifying charges and brutally beating suspects. Was Bailey investigating to see if such tactics were still going on? Another rumor doing the rounds is that one police officer had even been caught up in the Bakery's activities. The police deny it all. Perhaps they are right. But others are not so sure.
"I could tell you a lot of things. But I don't want to," Cobb says, clearly rattled by the terrible events that have struck his paper. 'I am going to leave it alone.' Cobb is now considering selling the Post. It is hard not to sympathize with him. His editor has been killed, the Bakery is closed and the great and good of Oakland want the tragedy to be forgotten. It might be wise to walk away. Yet the story begs to be told. There are questions unanswered. A community is in pain. It is an investigation one Oakland journalist would likely have relished.
But Chauncey Bailey is dead.