A Journalist's Death
Chauncey Bailey is murdered while performing an essential task of democracy.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

THERE WAS a time when many people in Oakland, Calif., admired Your Black Muslim Bakery, a neighborhood enterprise founded in 1968 by a charismatic African American known as Yusuf Bey. Community members, politicians and the local media hailed the bakery as an example of black self-help in an otherwise dispiriting environment of urban poverty. For years, they tended to ignore or play down reports about the more violent side of Mr. Bey's operation, or about such disturbing events as a political rally at which Mr. Bey remarked that Jews "are not worthy of being hated." Among the many who were a bit soft on the bakery was a reporter for the Oakland Tribune, Chauncey Bailey, who doubled as news director for a television channel that Mr. Bey paid to broadcast his sermons.

But in 2002, the East Bay Express, a local alternative newspaper that had praised the bakery, ran a penetrating series of articles on the activities of Mr. Bey's minions, including the alleged torture of a Nigerian immigrant. That series earned reporter Chris Thompson threats from Mr. Bey's group. Mr. Bey's arrest in 2003 on 27 counts of raping four girls further damaged both Mr. Bey's image and that of his organization, though most of the charges were dropped and he died before his trial.

Mr. Bailey began to take a second journalistic look at Your Black Muslim Bakery. Having become editor of the Oakland Post, a small weekly newspaper focused on the African American community, Mr. Bailey probed the bakery's murky finances -- until the morning of Aug. 2, when a masked man approached and fired a shotgun at his head. According to police, a 19-year-old employee of the bakery has confessed to the murder, saying he carried it out because of Mr. Bailey's reporting. The suspect denies he confessed and claims he is innocent.

Job-related murders of journalists are extremely rare in the United States: The last one took place in 1993, and there have been only 13 since 1976 (including Mr. Bailey's), according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Yet this murder is a reminder of the need for reporting by professional journalists, even in an era when amateur video of war zones can be had at the click of a mouse. Aggressive journalism is still a vital part of every community's defenses against corruption and crime. It can save lives.

Chauncey Bailey died doing his duty as a reporter. That duty is not only indispensable in a democratic society; it's also risky. Now that the police have raided the bakery, confiscating weapons and arresting six people in addition to Mr. Bailey's alleged assassin, there is some hope for a safer Oakland. That would be the most fitting memorial for Chauncey Bailey.

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