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Death came for Chauncey Bailey just after breakfast. The new editor of the Oakland Post had a morning routine of strolling to his office in downtown Oakland. Each day he took the same route and stopped at the same McDonald's. So it was easy for his killer to find him.
At around 7.30am on 2 August, as Bailey walked down Oakland's 14th Street, a young black man got out of a white van and approached him. He stepped quickly forward, hefted up a shotgun and blasted him in the chest. As Bailey lay dying, the man shot him again, then turned and ran a few steps, before stopping and coming back. He took aim once more before firing a third and final time. Then he fled.
One of black America's most successful journalists had been murdered in broad daylight. The crime sent shock waves through Oakland that rippled into the rest of the country. Then came the real surprise: it emerged that Bailey had been investigating a local group of radical black Muslims, digging into their finances and reputation for violence. Bailey had been killed for a story. But this was not Moscow. Or Burma. Nor some tinpot African dictatorship. This was Oakland, California. This is America, where no journalist has been murdered because of their work for more than 30 years.
Bailey's killing was clearly no common crime. It was the culmination of a series of extraordinary events. In some ways it was the last defiant spasm of the radical politics of the Sixties that brought Oakland infamy as the birthplace of black nationalism and the Black Panthers. It was also the product of a city that in some areas has plunged into the depths of crime, drugs and despair. And of a city so keen to promote itself that it ignored the brutal criminal gang operating in its midst under the guise of a religious organization. For decades, Oakland has turned a blind eye to the huge black ghettos that define many of its suburbs. They are grim, festering places of drugs and shootings, they are places the city wants to forget. Bailey's death was a reminder of this "Other Oakland," the city beyond the fancy bars and fine restaurants of a freshly prospering -- and increasingly white -- downtown.
Not that Bailey had forgotten them. While living in a tough Oakland neighborhood, he had once boasted that he could lean out his window and "see the news." In a modern age of mindless TV sound bites and celebrity-obsessed newspapers, Bailey stood out a mile. He lived and breathed his job. He was an old-fashioned journalist; a crusading reporter. And it was this that got him killed.
Colin McEnroe read about Bailey's murder in The New York Times. They had known each other for almost 30 years, having met when Bailey worked a stint at the Hartford Courant in Connecticut. McEnroe remembers his former colleague as a serious, dedicated young reporter. "Chauncey was still being Chauncey even after all that time," he tells me. "Journalists just think their profession makes them impervious. Nobody actually kills reporters, do they? Well, guess what? It turns out they do."
That Bailey's killing happened in Oakland was perhaps no surprise. The city has always been San Francisco's darker twin, brooding on the opposite side of the bay. During the '60s, as San Francisco grew world-famous for the Summer of Love, Oakland exploded with radical politics and black power. It was on these troubled streets that the Black Panthers were born, gun-wielding militants who inspired America's blacks as much as they terrified its whites. This was where the radical Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) prowled. While hippies preached free love in San Francisco, the SLA was kidnapping Patty Hearst and murdering Oakland school officials with bullets dipped in cyanide.
It was also Bailey's home town. Born in 1949 in East Oakland, Bailey was one of five children. It was a measure of the city, and of the times, that Bailey once asked a teacher whether he should become a Black Panther or a journalist. It was also a measure of Bailey's attitude that he thought both were vehicles for helping the black community. That philosophy was to define his life. Bailey chose journalism not street politics. As his career took off, he found himself crisscrossing the US. He went to Hartford in Connecticut, where he worked on the local paper. This was followed by stints in Washington and Chicago, and then 10 years in Detroit before, finally, he returned to Oakland, where he worked on the local black television channel, Soul Beat, the Oakland Tribune and eventually the Post. At each stop on his journey, Bailey showed the same drive: crusading on black issues and a dogged determination to get the story. In Detroit, he had a famously testy relationship with the city's mayor, Coleman Young. Bob Berg, the mayor's former press secretary, who would speak movingly at a Detroit memorial in Bailey's honor, remembers Bailey angrily pursuing the mayor through the city's airport. "I can't even remember the dispute, but we got into an elevator and the mayor's security had to restrain him from going for Chauncey. Finally, the doors started to close and Chauncey did not try to get in. When the doors were shut, everyone in the elevator breathed a sigh of relief."
Chauncey also made his journalism deeply personal. He mentored black kids in the profession, visiting local schools. And when he wrote up a story he would often take its characters under his wing. Chakay McDonald knew all about that. She met Bailey through a friend and he became intrigued by her plans to start a restaurant chain. "There weren't very many African-American women of my age trying to start businesses. He wanted to support me," McDonald says. Bailey wrote several business pieces about her. Then, after her first store opened, he became a regular customer. Now McDonald has just opened her fourth outlet. "He really helped me when it was tough," she says. "He told me he believed in this community. He never gave up trying to make a difference. Regardless of the crime and the ways these kids here grow up."