For Some in Oakland, Editor's Death Shows Subversion of Black Activism
Friday, August 10, 2007
OAKLAND -- In a city where murder has taken on an element of routine, the shotgun slaying of Chauncey Bailey, in broad daylight by a young man who allegedly stood over the fallen journalist and pumped a second blast into his face, has galvanized Oakland as no single killing in decades.
It was not just the brutality that stunned the city. To some, the suspect's ties to a black Muslim bakery held a darker significance, a symbol that Oakland's radical black movement -- a history that spawned such national figures as Huey Newton and Angela Davis -- had over the years gone awry, and that the violence that infused parts of that tradition had been tolerated too long.
"This community has a radical tradition, including the Black Panthers, the West Coast Black Arts Movement, the establishment of black studies," said Marvin X, a militant-turned-writer, standing in the doorway of a downtown photocopy shop. "Look at where we are now. We've gotten off course from our tradition. Radicalism has been aborted to criminality."
Bailey, 57, editor of the Oakland Post, a black weekly newspaper, was shot Aug. 2 on his way to work. His alleged killer, 19, was a foot soldier in a local institution, Your Black Muslim Bakery, an ambitious social welfare project that court records show was deteriorating into a criminal enterprise. Police allege that he was angry that Bailey was preparing to write critically about the bakery.
Bailey's death has shaken Oakland's black elite. Bailey was a member of their fraternity and, like them, had promoted Oakland's transition from 1970s crucible of black power to African American establishment showcase.
"This was sort of the Oakland version of a fatwa," said Ishmael Reed, the poet and author of two books on Oakland. "This will wake up the African American elite, because they could be next. They feel very vulnerable now, after hundreds of people have been killed in the streets."
More than 700 people turned out on Wednesday for Bailey's funeral, which doubled as a collective action against the fact that nine out of 10 black murder victims are slain by other blacks. "Stop Black on Black Violence," read a sign held by one mourner.
"What's happening nowadays is kind of startling to the whole city," said Phil Baker, 60, who wore the black leather vest of the East Bay Dragons motorcycle club, a mainstream civic group in Oakland. At the pulpit, Mayor Ron Dellums summoned state help to patrol streets where seven more men were killed in the two days after Bailey was slain.
"It's breathtaking what's happening here," Baker said.
Bailey came of age when the city's black population, much of which was mired in poverty since the shuttering of naval yards after World War II, was organizing itself against a white power structure that recruited Southern whites for its police force. At local Merritt College, Bailey asked a journalism professor whether he would be more useful writing for a newspaper or joining the Black Panthers, the militant movement that emerged in Oakland to confront police power head-on.
Choosing journalism, Bailey would become a fixture in the African American establishment, which eventually transformed "black power" into an electoral reality. Invariably dressed in a suit and tie, and relentlessly upbeat, Bailey promoted the cause in the city's ethnic media, as host of TV talk shows and during 12 years at the Oakland Tribune, when it was the largest metro daily owned by an African American, the late Robert Maynard.
Your Black Muslim Bakery was an Oakland fixture of a different flavor. It was founded in 1968 by Yusuf Bey, a charismatic African American man who had been impressed by the teachings of Elijah Muhammad, the founder of the Nation of Islam.