BOB GARFIELD: In the past three decades, only one U.S.-born journalist had been assassinated in the United States for pursuing a delicate story. That changed one morning last month when a man fired three shotgun blasts at reporter Chauncey Bailey nearby his newspaper, The Oakland Post.
The alleged gunman was a handyman at Your Black Muslim Bakery, a store connected to racketeering activity that Bailey was investigating. The 57-year-old Bailey, known for his activist journalism and feature pieces, was a fixture in the Oakland black community, which will never have the benefit of his reporting on Your Black Muslim Bakery.
But another reporter, Chris Thompson of The Weekly East Bay Express, did publish a detailed investigation of the business back in 2002, detailing both the bakery's illegal activities and the lack of intervention by the city's police, politicians and media.
Steven Buel is the editor of The Express, which he says was immediately subjected to a campaign of intimidation. STEVEN BUEL: When the article was first published, Chris received some threats. We received a brick through our window. We also received, you know, dozens of letters to the editor and just an outpouring of favorable response from our readers, who were saying either, wow, I didn't know, or, gee, it's about time somebody wrote all that.
And over the course of the next year, as we did follow-ups, Chris would continue to get threats. The threats intensified, and we had people basically casing our office, sitting outside in cars, following employees home, asking them if they were the author of the piece. It got to the point where we were legitimately scared. We shared our experience with both the Oakland police, which is where the bakery is located, and the Emeryville police, which is the city in which our office is located.
Emeryville was pretty responsive. Oakland was not responsive. And so ultimately Chris decided that it made sense for him to work outside our office, and indeed our county, for four or five months. BOB GARFIELD: Well, tell me the origins of your Black Muslim bakery and how it retained is status as a civic do-gooder in spite of all the criminal behavior that was swirling around it. STEVEN BUEL: The organization was created in the late '60s or early '70s by a gentleman named Yusuf Bey. It was an offshoot of the Nation of Islam but pretty quickly kind of went in a different direction.
And the initial origins of the group were opening a bakery to provide ex-cons and young offenders fresh out of prison with kind of a way to get back on track, lift themselves up and do it without the assistance of "the man" or of government. And it was, you know, a street-level organization - in fact, militantly anti-white - but something that was of the community and helping the community. That was the story. Along the way it turned toward other ends. BOB GARFIELD: Should the police, should the city government, should the media, including The Oakland Tribune, the mainstream daily there, have been aware of what was going on right under its nose? STEVEN BUEL: There were innumerable criminal events, all tied to individuals and not necessarily tied to the organization. The thing that prompted us to do our investigation was the founder of the bakery was charged with 40-some-odd counts of rape and child abuse involving, in several instances, his own foster daughters. So there was a lot of coverage, from The Oakland Tribune, from The San Francisco Chronicle¸ of that story, and on television.
But there was no real follow-up on the broader picture of this lawless organization. If you took a good look at the organization, it was both political and, you know, religious rhetoric. A couple of people associated with the bakery had run for citywide office. Yusuf Bey ran for mayor, and at the time that he did, he invited in speakers who were, you know, going on and on about the hook-nosed Jews who run our nation, and, you know, virulently anti-Semitic, racist stuff. Oakland being the kind of politically correct city that it is, everyone just kind of gave all that stuff a pass. BOB GARFIELD: I'm not sure political correctness is quite the right term, but obviously racial politics is in the very thick of this in a very Tom Wolfe Bonfire of the Vanities sort of way. Do you think that's so? STEVEN BUEL: Yeah, you're right, and political correctness is an imprecise term at best. The Bay Area is a politically correct, liberal place, and I think there's a lot of media sensitivity to wanting to be inclusive and reach out to every community and not appear to slight, you know, the African-American community, the Muslim community.
I think there's been a lot of situations where reporters don't really understand that this Black Muslim sect are not in any way Muslims like most of the Muslims we know. So I think this was a hard story for surface coverage to do much justice to because it's very complex and nuanced and the sort of story that the media doesn't often know what to do with. BOB GARFIELD: Now, as of the time Chauncey Bailey was shot to death a few weeks ago, was the Black Muslim Bakery still an ongoing racketeering operation? Were they still operating with impunity? Were they still regarded as a civic asset? STEVEN BUEL: Yusuf Bey died in 2003, and over time the group became, if it's possible to believe, even more lawless. And even still, the bakery operated as a commercial enterprise and people went there and ate fish sandwiches and acted like nothing was wrong.
As we point out in our paper this week, a bakery-owned security firm has had the security contract for the city of Oakland's Convention Hotel for the better part of a decade and continues to have that contract, in spite of the fact, as we pointed out in 2002, this organization is not licensed as a security company, has never been licensed as a security company and is owned by the same people involved in all this violence.
So, you know, even in the wake of Chauncey Bailey's assassination, Oakland continues to act like it doesn't care and it isn't inclined to do anything. BOB GARFIELD: You've mentioned you've done some coverage in the last few weeks since Bailey's murder, but before that was this five-year gap. You and Chris Thompson had turned away from Your Black Muslim Bakery. Do you wish you'd hung on through all the threats and intimidation? STEVEN BUEL: We did consciously decide to abandon the story about a year after the publication of our original project. I was torn about that then and I'm torn about that now, because there was more to write and we were basically intimidated into silence. I'll always regret that in some way.
I think it was the right decision. And I think the tragic murder of Chauncey makes clear that this was, and, I believe, is still a dangerous group of individuals, and I didn't want any tragedies on our hands. BOB GARFIELD: Steven, thank you very much for joining us. STEVEN BUEL: Thank you, Bob. BOB GARFIELD: Steven Buel is the editor of The East Bay Express. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER]