Being named journalist of the year is a significant distinction. It’s just too bad that Chauncey Bailey isn’t around to receive the award.
The Northern California Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists named Bailey the winner of its top award Sept. 21, citing his "his fierce commitment to investigative journalism in the face of personal danger."
"At a time when journalists around the world are under threat for simply doing their jobs," the group said in a statement, "Bailey was a forceful presence in print and on radio and television in the Bay Area for the past 15 years. A tireless advocate for the African American community, he was assassinated while pursuing a story, and evidence presented thus far shows that he was assassinated because he was pursuing that story."
The longtime reporter and editor was shot to death Aug. 2 at the shady intersection of 14th and Alice streets in Oakland. That intersection, the site of Bailey’s Oakland Post office, sits in the center of the city’s power structure, with county court and government office buildings situated nearby.
An employee of Your Black Muslim Bakery a group that has a history of both political influence at Oakland City Hall and severe money woes, which Bailey was investigating is accused of shooting Bailey twice in the chest and once in the head with a black Mossberg shotgun as Bailey walked to work at the Post.
Devaughndre Broussard, the 19-year-old alleged shooter, was arrested during a raid at four locations, including the bakery’s main address, following the killing. Also arrested in the raids were three other people associated with the bakery and political movement; they were charged with kidnapping and torture following an earlier incident.
At the center of this story is the family of the late black Muslim leader Yusuf Bey Sr., who maintained a violent fiefdom now linked by law enforcement officials to an alleged assassination, vigilantism, child rape, and the abuse of a disadvantaged-business loan to the Bey family and its associates, as earlier media accounts and criminal charges revealed.
Police say they caught Broussard tossing a black shotgun out the window of a 59th Street address during one of the raids and that he admitted the gun belonged to him. Police have told the media that shells found at the intersection where Bailey was killed were linked to the gun.
But Broussard’s attorney has waged a public campaign to prove that Broussard wasn’t the assailant. The Oakland Tribune, where Bailey once worked as a reporter, has reportedly obtained police notes from interrogations that contained details of an unrecorded conversation between Broussard and Yusuf Bey IV, heir to the bakery chain and the black liberation movement that surrounded it.
Broussard’s attorney has insisted that Bey IV, during that brief exchange, coaxed Broussard into confessing to the murder. Broussard later did exactly that and reportedly claimed he pulled the trigger because Bailey was investigating the bakery’s deteriorating finances, which grew worse after Bey IV took over as CEO.
In mid-September, Alameda County reached a $188,000 settlement with three women who filed suit alleging that Bey Sr. assaulted them after local child welfare officials placed them in his custody. The three women first claimed in 2003 that Bey Sr. defecated on them and forced them to have sex with him and drink his urine and semen. But Bey Sr. died of cancer that year before he could face related criminal charges in court.
Bailey joins the growing roster of international journalists attacked or killed for reporting the news. On Sept. 27, Japanese photojournalist Kenji Nagai, who was working for the French news service Agence France-Presse, was shot to death by Burmese troops as they assaulted demonstrators in an increasingly bloody suppression of dissent still taking place in that country.
Reporters Without Borders notes that 75 journalists were killed worldwide in 2007, triple the number in 2002. Fifteen were killed in the Americas, according to the Inter American Press Association, which is preparing a resolution on Bailey’s death.
In early August two dozen Association of Alternative Newsweeklies newspapers published a story written by longtime Guardian Mexico City correspondent John Ross (and edited by the Guardian) outlining the events that led up to the shooting death of videojournalist Brad Will in Oaxaca, Mexico, during social and political unrest in the fall of 2006.
Gonzalo Marroquín, chairman of the IAPA’s Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information and editor of the Guatemala City, Guatemala, newspaper Prensa Libre, stated in early August, "We urge the authorities to investigate the [Bailey] murder in depth and promptly, so that the case does not become just another on the list of unpunished crimes in the Americas."