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

Portrait by John W. Pearson




August 24 , 2007

There was always something that seemed extraordinarily fortuitous about the supposed quick solving of the Chauncey Bailey murder case.

To believe the public statements over that frantic weekend following the 14th Street shooting death of the Oakland Post editor two weeks ago, you would have to believe that with no prior suspicion that Your Black Muslim Bakery associates had something to do with Bailey’s death, the Oakland Police Department were lucky enough to raid bakery properties less than 24 hours after Bailey’s death, discovering the murder weapon which the alleged murderer was stupid enough to bring home with him rather than disposing it in any number of ways one might easily imagine.

Police investigators are often lucky. Perpetrators are often stupid. That both occurred during the most high-profile Oakland murder in more than 30 years—one that would have brought enormous pressure on police and city officials the longer it went unsolved—is something that might have given one pause.

But anyone who attended the packed Friday afternoon press conference at OPD headquarters the afternoon following the bakery raid, or who has read the press coverage in the weeks afterwards, knows that there has been little pause in the press or in the public, once OPD officials announced that evidence relating to the Bailey murder had been found by police during the bakery premises raid. Any trail of inquiry other than those that led to Your Black Muslim Bakery went out the public door with the Saturday story leaked in the Oakland Tribune—and confirmed the following Monday by OPD Deputy Chief Howard Jordan—that a 19 year old handyman at the bakery, Devaughndre Broussard, had confessed to Bailey’s murder. (The San Francisco Chronicle later reported that “Broussard was seen throwing a shotgun out the window of a raided home on 59th Street in Oakland, and a match was made between the weapon and shell casings found near Bailey's body, police said.”) And when Mr. Jordan told reporters that OPD investigators did not believe Mr. Broussard’s story that he, Mr. Broussard, acted alone in the murder, with Mr. Jordan carefully adding that “We don't believe he acted on his own, We're still working on how that plan was developed.”, the popular assumption was that this meant that Broussard acted under orders, and that those orders came from Your Black Muslim Bakery officials.

But Mr. Broussard has since recanted that confession, signed without his counsel being present, and this week, the Tribune reports Broussard’s attorney, LeRue Grim, is saying that bakery leader Yusuf Bey IV, not Broussard, is the person behind Bailey’s death.

"You would think he is the main guy responsible for all of this," the Tribune quotes Mr. Grim. "That is just logical, he is in charge of the whole place."

The Broussard confession has also been tainted by the fact—confirmed by OPD officials—that OPD investigators allowed Mr. Bey IV, who was also arrested during the bakery raid, to talk privately with Mr. Broussard in the interrogation room at police headquarters shortly before Mr. Broussard made his confession. According to the Tribune, OPD Sgt. Derwin Longmire confirmed that Bey IV, 21, spoke with Broussard and said, “Yusuf Bey IV was allowed to speak to Broussard as part of the investigative strategy.”

The Bey IV-Broussard meeting inside police headquarters while both were under arrest seems a strange type of “strategy” for police investigators.

The tossing of the murder weapon by Mr. Broussard did not automatically link him directly to the murder of Chauncey Bailey, but the discovery of the weapon on a property reportedly “associated” with Your Black Muslim Bakery provided police with a link between the bakery and the murder. That immediately gave OPD investigators considerable leverage over the seven individuals arrested in the August 3rd police raids, the two people who were under warrant but eluded arrest, and anyone else associated with the bakery.

Mr. Broussard’s original confession—in which he absolved anyone else but himself of responsibility for or participation in Mr. Bailey’s murder—took other bakery members off the hook, at least for the time being. Was the Bey IV-Broussard jailhouse meeting then a “mistake” by police investigators, making them lose leverage against other bakery associates they earlier had? Or was obtaining the confession part of a police strategy to ramp up pressure on Mr. Broussard, forcing him to implicate other bakery associates, as his attorney is now doing? I don’t have any answers to those questions, but maybe that will become manifest as more things are revealed about the investigation.

Meanwhile, while we ought to listen to Mr. Broussard’s attorney, we ought to be careful about what we take for information, and what we take for spin.

Mr. Grim came into this case at a difficult time, with his client already having signed a confession, first, and then repudiating it by saying that police had beaten it out of him. Mr. Grim’s job, as a defense attorney charged with defending his client, has been to stir up as much doubt as he can about the original confession, and to try to point the finger of guilt away from Mr. Broussard. He has done a good job of it in a bad situation. But because Mr. Grim now infers that Mr. Bey IV may be “the main guy responsible for all of this” does not necessarily mean that Mr. Broussard believes that or will eventually testify to it, much less that it is actually true.

Let us boil down what we know or reasonably believe to be fact, at this point.

First, Chauncey Bailey was working on an article for the Oakland Post that was critical to certain members of Your Black Muslim Bakery, critical enough to anger them.

Second, the Bailey murder weapon was found by police on one of the premises associated with Your Black Muslim Bakery. (This a fact one can reasonably assume, since Mr. Grim has not disputed it.)

From these two sets of facts, many have concluded that one or more bakery associates killed Chauncey Bailey. Some—maybe many—have also concluded that the killings were ordered by top bakery officials.

But while those conclusions certainly could be true, the two sets of facts that we have earlier outlined don’t necessarily make those conclusions true.

While there is a likelihood that the presence of the murder weapon on bakery property means that someone associated with the bakery was responsible for Mr. Bailey’s murder, it does not leave out the possibility that the weapon was planted there after the shooting by someone not associated with the bakery, but who wanted to implicate the bakery. (I am not suggesting that this scenario is true; I am only trying to see what is proven, so far, by the facts and evidence on hand.)
And while one can reasonably conclude that if it is determined that a bakery associate murdered Chauncey Bailey, such a murder came under the orders of bakery officials, one can also conclude, just as reasonably, that history has provided a possibility that just the opposite could also be the case.

In 1965, former Nation of Islam minister Malcolm X was shot and killed by three gunmen in the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem, New York. The gunmen, who were captured on the scene and identified by eyewitnesses to the shooting, were revealed to be members of the Nation of Islam. Because Malcolm X had left the Nation of Islam under difficult circumstances, and had been publicly feuding with the organization ever since, there was a widespread conclusion that Malcolm X’s murder was carried out under orders by top NOI officials.

But that, in fact, was never proven, and many of Malcolm X’s supporters now believe it not to be true.

In a note in Malcolm X’s autobiography, published after Malcolm X's death, co-author Alex Haley said that following his split with the Nation, Malcolm X had been poisoned during a trip to Europe. According to Mr. Haley, Malcolm X told him that while he (Malcolm) believed that NOI officials may have wanted him dead, he (Malcolm) did not believe the NOI had the capability of making an attack on European soil, and that there was a death plot against him from an entity with a longer reach.

From that revelation, many of Malcolm X’s supporters began to believe that Malcolm X’s assassination was ordered by some group or organization other than the NOI, which used NOI members to commit the act in order to throw suspicion on the NOI and away from the real perpetrators.

In the same way, someone who wanted to kill Chauncey Bailey could have used an associate or associates of Your Black Muslim Bakery to commit the act, in the hope that once the public learned of Your Black Muslim Bakery involvement in any way, the public would think that the orders came from bakery officials, and would concentrate all efforts on proving that.

The Your Black Muslim Bakery story, after all, was not the only story Chauncey Bailey was working on, nor the only sensitive area he had dug into.

Am I saying I believe this scenario is true, that the bakery was set up to take the fall for the Chauncey Bailey murder? Am I defending Your Black Muslim Bakery?

Absolutely not.

I am saying that I want to know who killed Chauncey Bailey and, if it was under orders, who gave the orders. Public opinion now points in the direction of Your Black Muslim Bakery and only Your Black Muslim Bakery, both as the perpetrators and the order givers, but the available evidence that has been so far publicly presented does not (yet) justify such a conclusion. Unless and until it does, I am going to continue to wait, and watch, and keep an open mind, and try not to miss anything important. Hope you do so, too.