Columns written for the Berkeley Daily Planet newspaper, Berkeley, CA
Berkeley Daily Planet

Portrait by John W. Pearson




August 10 , 2007

The assassination of Oakland Post editor and longtime Oakland journalist Chauncey Bailey on a daytime downtown Oakland street—now exactly one week ago, as of the time of this writing—is a test for Oakland, under a national spotlight. Some of us are passing it. Some of us are not doing so well.

One of those passing, at least in the initial stages, is the Oakland Police Department.

In that passing grade, I’m not including the quick arrest of the alleged confessed shooter of Mr. Bailey, 19 year old Your Black Muslim Bakery handyman Devaughdre Broussard. Oakland police officials say that last Friday morning’s raids on several bakery properties had been planned for some time, and were unrelated to the Bailey murder, based upon warrants concerning a May kidnapping and torture case, and two July North Oakland murders. Given that it was widely being talked about around Oakland on the Thursday afternoon following Mr. Bailey’s murder that he had been working on an unflattering story about Your Black Muslim Bakery, it is difficult to believe that Oakland police did not hear some of that talk, and did not speed up the raids on the bakery properties as a result. Still, if Oakland police knew in advance that the murder weapon was going to be found on the property, they are not saying so, and therefore the finding of that weapon, and the subsequent arrest of Mr. Broussard and announcement of his confession, can at this point only be attributed to good fortune.

However, there are other areas of the events surrounding the raids and arrest where the Oakland Police Department deserves praise.

The first is the fact that despite the fact that a number of weapons were found on the Your Black Muslim Bakery premises by police, no weapons were fired by either side, and no-one was injured. There are many ways in which the Friday morning raids could have gone wrong, with the possibility of resulting injuries and deaths. That it did not can only be attributed to good planning, good leadership, and disciplined execution on the part of the police. They should be commended for that.

The second area where OPD is due praise is in the careful manner in which they have released information—and refused to draw conclusions from that information—in the aftermath of the raids and arrests.

We are all familiar with instances, notorious instances, where police or law enforcement officials have not been so careful. One of them is the recent rape allegations against members of the Duke University Lacrosse team, which Durham, North Carolina District Attorney Mike Nifong chose to prosecute on CNN and MSNBC and the Fox News Channel, rather than in the Durham County courts. The public case eventually collapsed, and the charges withdrawn and, unfortunately, the citizens of Durham County are left with the possibility that either innocent young men were unfairly slandered in the national press by county officials, or a Durham County woman was assaulted and her attackers went free because the prosecutor decided playing for the publicity was more important than preparing for the trial.

Perhaps with a mind towards such fiascos, and the international attention the murder of Chauncey Bailey was generating, Oakland police officials have been measured and cautious in what they have released to the press concerning the Your Black Muslim Bakery arrests.

At the Friday afternoon press conference announcing the raid and arrests, Assistant Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan would only say that “evidence linked to the murder of Chauncey Bailey” had been found in the raids, with Lt. Ersie Joyner later revealing that the evidence was a weapon. Mr. Jordan and Mr. Joyner refused to speculate beyond that, despite repeated questions by reporters, saying only that the persons arrested were being questioned, and the department was continuing its investigation.

And that’s exactly how it should have been. The department satisfied the public’s need to know evidence in the Bailey murder had been uncovered—confirming the widespread speculation that there was some connection with the murder to Your Black Muslim Bakery—but refusing to participate in any public rush to judgment.

And in his announcement on the following Monday of Mr. Broussard’s confession to the Bailey murder, Deputy Chief Jordan was equally careful. “We don't believe he worked on his own, and I can't get into specifics," the Chronicle quoted Mr. Jordan as saying. "We're still trying to investigate how the plan was developed and who was involved in the plan.” The assumption by many people reading that statement or seeing it on the evening news was that Oakland police believed that Mr. Broussard was acting on orders from Your Black Muslim Bakery officials. Whether or not that is a good assumption, and whether or not that is actually the theory that Oakland police are working on, Mr. Jordan was careful not to say it, and rightfully so. If there is enough evidence developed by police to bring to the District Attorney and a judge to take out a warrant for further arrests in the Bailey murder, then police should do so, and it is proper for them not to speculate in detail about that. Speculation don’t make it so.

But while Oakland police have been careful in the dissemination of information surrounding the murder of Chauncey Bailey, some of my colleagues in the media, unfortunately, have not.

In the August 7 story “New Details On Man Who Confessed To Killing Editor,” San Francisco Chronicle reporters Henry K. Lee and Matthai Chakko Kuruvila wrote that “among those arrested Friday during raids at the bakery at 5832 San Pablo Ave. and three nearby homes was Yusuf Bey IV, 21, the son of the bakery's founder. The arrests were linked to Bailey's homicide, two other slayings in July and the May 19 kidnapping.” To show that this wasn’t a misprint or an aberration, Chronicle reporter Leslie Fulbright wrote on the same day, in the companion article “Bey Son-In-Law Says He Was Editor’s Source” that “seven people were arrested during a raid at the bakery and three other locations in connection with a string of crimes, including Bailey's slaying. Among them was Yusuf Bey IV.”

This takes some sorting.

As we said earlier, Oakland police conducted the Friday morning raids on warrants involving a May kidnapping and torture case and two July North Oakland homicides. Seven persons, including 21 year old Your Muslim Bakery leader Yusuf Bey IV, were arrested on those warrants and held for questioning. After police obtained Mr. Broussard’s’ confession, he—and only he—was charged with Mr. Bailey’s murder. Three other men arrested on Friday morning, Yusef Bey IV, 20 year old Joshua Bey and 21 year old Tamon Halfin, have been charged in connection with the May kidnapping and torture case. No-one has yet been charged with the two July North Oakland murders.

But according to the two Chronicle articles, the seven arrests, including that of Mr. Bey IV, were connected with all of the crimes, including Mr. Bailey’s. And that, in fact, was not true.

Less egregious, but still problematic, was the August 8 Oakland Tribune article by staff writers Harry Harris and Paul T. Rosynsky, “Bakery leader, cohorts charged”, which began “Members of a violent faction of Your Black Muslim Bakery, including leader Yusuf Bey IV, were charged Tuesday with a host of vicious crimes including murder, kidnapping and torture. The charges stem from two ruthless episodes since May, including the killing of Oakland Post Editor Chauncey Bailey, who was slain with a shotgun as he walked to work in downtown Oakland Thursday morning. The other charges stem from an alleged May kidnapping and torture in which several members of the bakery kidnapped two women using a car modified to look like a police cruiser.”

A careful reading of the entire article shows that only Mr. Broussard has been charged with the Bailey murder. But if you only read the first three paragraphs, you would believe that charges for that murder have been brought against Mr. Bey IV.

Nothing here should be construed to mean that I am advocating that newspapers or broadcast media should not investigate, on their own, the Bailey murder and the events surrounding and publish or broadcasts those results. But a newspaper or media broadcast company publishing information that it says connects the individuals arrested in the Your Black Muslim Bakery raids with all the crimes being discussed—including the two North Oakland murders and the murder of Chauncey Bailey—is far different from the patching together of a paragraph that gives the impression that Oakland police have done so.

Why is this important, and not merely nit-picking?

The public is free to speculate on what events led to the murder of Chauncey Bailey. Nothing I say, in this column, should be interpreted as an intention to attempt to take away that freedom to speculate, even if I had the power to do so. Like everyone else in Oakland, I am doing my own speculating. But because of its unique power in our society to both disseminate information and shape public opinion, the media has a different responsibility. Columnists, editorialists, and other opinion writers can join the ranks of speculation, if they wish. But while the news stories and news reports may freely publish and reprint the speculation of others, the facts published or broadcast in those news stories and news reports should be facts only, and not our own spin and interpretation. To do otherwise is to turn the media into the leader of a mob. Many of us, both in this city and in other localities, have lived through such times when either we or our friends or family or people who live near us and look like us have been the victims of such media-led mob mentality. We would not like to go through such times again, here in Oakland, even if it is in a cause we believe to be just and righteous and necessary, the finding of all of the persons responsible for the murder of Chauncey Bailey, and bringing them to justice.

I believe that can be done—if we are careful, and courageous, and patient—without violating the principles in which we say we believe. So far as I can see to this date in the events surrounding the murder of Chauncey Bailey, the Oakland Police Department is showing how that can properly done. The rest of us who work in other official capacities in this city—in public leadership and the media—should follow their lead.