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For Some in Oakland, Editor's Death Shows Subversion of Black Activism

By Karl Vick
Washington Post Staff Writer
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.

Bey's enterprise would eventually part ways with the Nation, but both preached a gospel grounded more in urban realities than in the Islam practiced by 1.2 billion people. Black Muslims rejected white America and promoted self-reliance and a strict discipline that both impressed and frustrated local police.

"They're helping the community. We're helping the community. We should be able to work together," said Sgt. Michael Poirier, chief of staff for the Oakland Police Department. "But as long as I've known them, their disdain for the police makes them difficult to work with."

On the median outside the bakery storefront on busy San Pablo Avenue, young men in suits and bow ties sold copies of the Nation of Islam newspaper and the popular bean pies. The bakery opened one stand at the Oakland Coliseum and another at the airport.

"At one time, it was an institution that brought pride to the community," said the Rev. Bill Reed, a Baptist clergyman who grew up in Oakland and returned for Bailey's funeral. "They had a great mission. They were training people coming out of prison."

Opinions differ on when things changed. A series in the East Bay Express, an alternative weekly, alleged that from the beginning, Bey used the patina of black empowerment to do as he wished. Oakland's establishment chose to ignore signs of trouble and elected leaders even channeled the project a $1.2 million federal loan, the weekly wrote.

"Let me make it real simple: This has been going on about 30 years. And it has been known," Marvin X said. The bakery "had a dark side, and it was as real as the light side."

In 2002, Alameda County prosecutors charged Bey with forcing a foster daughter to act as his underage mistress a quarter-century earlier. Bey died before the trial, triggering a succession crisis on the scale of the patriarch's profligacy: He reportedly fathered 43 children.

Months later, Bey's chosen successor turned up in a shallow grave. The son who then took over was killed in an attempted carjacking in 2005. New leader Yusuf Bey IV, then 19, was arrested that year for vandalizing two neighborhood liquor stores in a vigilante enforcement of Muslim prohibitions on alcohol. A year later, he was charged with trying to drive his BMW over bouncers outside a San Francisco strip club.

Intimidation was a recurring theme.

"It's not the death threats I minded, it's the credible death threats," said Chris Thompson, who after writing the exposés for the East Bay Express was told he would die, and found himself being followed. "It eventually got bad enough I decided to leave town for a while."

Deputy District Attorney Scott Swisher recalled 20 to 30 young men lining the corridors to a courtroom where four Bey associates were accused of torturing a Nigerian immigrant over money.

"The bow ties, the whole bit," Swisher said. "I felt like I was in the Antarctic. Isn't that where penguins are?"

Police said Devaughndre Broussard, the handyman charged in Bailey's killing, stalked him openly, masked but carrying a double-barreled shotgun down city streets. He allegedly found the journalist at the corner of Alice and 14th streets, where impromptu memorials have sprung up.

"It's just harking back to another era," Swisher said. "It reminded me of the Marcus Foster shooting. I sat up in bed."

Foster was the school superintendent killed in 1973 by a hollow-point slug dipped in cyanide by members of the Symbionese Liberation Army, the Oakland guerrilla group that kidnapped Patricia Hearst and as ransom demanded food distribution to the poor. Foster, like Bailey, was black and well-regarded in the community steeped in the distinctions between militancy and street violence.

"It's a weird web, Oakland," said Malcolm Marshall, host of the "Youth Outlook" radio talk show. He stood outside the funeral with a tape recorder. "My question to people today is, 'Do you feel safe in Oakland?' And a lot do."

The police response comforted some. Hours after the shooting, in a predawn operation planned earlier, scores of officers swarmed the bakery. Seven men were arrested on charges including kidnapping and torture. Police said two other killings appear linked to the group.

"It ain't over. This community will know what Chauncey and I were working on," Post publisher Paul Cobb declared over his editor's coffin, draped in kente cloth. The crowd rose in ovation.

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