Prominent journalist shot dead in street
By Harry Harris and Angela Hill, Chauncey Bailey Project
OAKLAND – In what police called a targeted killing, longtime Bay Area journalist Chauncey Bailey was ambushed and fatally shot Thursday morning at 14th and Alice streets in downtown as he walked to the Oakland Post, where he recently had been named editor. Investigators so far have only a vague description of the gunman and no motive in the shooting.
“We have not ruled out anything, including whether it was work-related or a personal dispute,” said Oakland homicide Sgt. Derwin Longmire. “But this was no random act. He was the target of a deliberate murder.”
About 7:25 a.m., Bailey, 57, a former Oakland Tribune reporter, was walking to work from an apartment where he had recently been living near Lake Merritt when a masked gunman dressed in black approached him on foot and fired at least three rounds — possibly from a shotgun — hitting Bailey at least once in the upper body, police said.
The attack happened so suddenly and without warning that Bailey was unable to try to flee or defend himself, police said.
“He was just confronted and shot,” Longmire said. The gunman then took off on foot to a waiting van and drove away, police said.
The killer apparently knew Bailey’s daily routine and route to work, and was not hesitant to shoot him in broad daylight, police said. Bailey was known to stop for breakfast at a fast-food restaurant about a half-block from the shooting, but police were unsure if he had stopped there Thursday.
He was carrying some newspapers when he was shot. Dressed in business attire, wounded Bailey fell to the sidewalk in the 200 block of 14th Street at the edge of a public parking lot near the U.S. Post Office, directly across from the Starlite Child Development Center.
Police and paramedics arrived and tried to revive him to no avail. He was pronounced dead at the scene. Friends and co-workers from the Oakland Post converged on the scene when they heard the news, and were at a loss to explain the brazen attack.
Post publisher Paul Cobb said he and Bailey were supposed to meet Thursday morning to discuss the launch of a new insert for the paper — news from the faith-based community about people solving problems, to be called, “The Good News Is.”
“We were both walking to work from different directions,” Cobb said. “I heard the police cars, but of course I had no idea. Then I got to work and the phone rang, and it was the police. I nearly dropped the phone.
“I’m not doing well at all,” he said. “It’s like losing a brother.”
Searching for a motive, investigators interviewed Cobb, asking about any sensitive stories Bailey may have been working on or any threats he might have received.
“The officers told me not to go into any specifics until they investigate,” Cobb said. “But I can say that Chauncey and I have both received many threats over time.”
Cobb said Bailey was in a very good place in life. He was about to be married in the fall, had recently reconnected with his father and was thrilled with his position as Post editor.
“Chauncey and I both had worked all of lives for this opportunity at the paper,” Cobb said. “We were talking about that just last night, when he left the office. He was all dressed up really sharp. and I was kidding with him that, ‘Now you’ve become editor, you’re really dressing the part.’
“He said to me, ‘You know, I’ve never had this kind of adulation before.’ People would walk up to him on the streets and say, ‘You’re the editor.’ He was so pleased to be viewed as the person in charge. It was a real life-affirming journalistic experience for him.”
Cobb admitted Bailey could be prickly. Sometimes brusque, he said. But he never knew a harder working journalist.
“And he was so excited,” Cobb said. “He had just gone to Texas to reunite with his father after 25 years, and he was just delighted about it. He had just talked to his father on the phone last night, telling him of some of his plans.”
The Post is planning at least one special memorial edition. Funeral services are pending.
A temporary shrine in Bailey’s honor, consisting of a large stuffed teddy bear, a short biography and poster boards for people to write personal messages was in place at the shooting site by late afternoon.
Bailey grew up in Oakland and had lived in East Oakland for many years until he recently moved to an apartment near Lake Merritt. He has a teenage son who spends much of his time with his mother in Southern California, friends said.
Bailey was an Oakland Tribune reporter for 12 years, from April 1993 to June 2005, when he was released from the Tribune for conflict-of-interest issues.
Just this summer, he was named editor of the Oakland Post, which is geared toward the African-American community, after writing freelance travel stories for the paper for about two years.
Over the years, he had worked at other area media outlets including KDIA radio and SoulBeat TV, and was involved with OUR-TV on Comcast Channel 78.
“I can’t believe this is Chauncey,” said local filmmaker and community activist Dedoceo Habi, who lives and works in the downtown area and came down to the site of the shooting.
“I worked with him on a couple of projects in the community, working to create opportunities for youth to get them off the streets,” he said. “I know there was some controversy in his past, but he was working hard to do something good. We were just discussing some articles to stimulate positive inspiration in the community.”
“He wrote about politics. He was a good writer. I don’t know if he made somebody mad or something,” said tearful Gwendolyn Carter, who works in advertising at the Post and had known Bailey for about a year in the weekly newspaper’s small 10-person office, located at 14th and Franklin streets. “He was just promoted as the editor. He was so nice to me. I don’t understand this.”
Chris Jackson, head of the Oakland chapter of the NAACP, was also at the crime scene.
“Chauncey usually stops at that McDonald’s,” Jackson said, pointing to the restaurant a block away on 14th and Jackson. “Then he walks to work from there. It’s his morning routine. Someone must have known that.”
Mayor Ron Dellums expressed sadness at Bailey’s death, and declared it “a huge loss for all of Oakland.”
“Chauncey will be missed,” Dellums said in a prepared statement Thursday. “He was at every media event, and he always asked the first question. His questions were thoughtful, and you knew that he sought to truly inform the public.
“It is a tragedy when any person loses his or her life by an act of violence,” Dellums continued. “The crime and violence on Oakland streets presents me with the most painful and difficult challenge I’ve ever faced … We are all diminished by the loss of any one of us.”
Tribune Managing Editor Martin Reynolds talked with Bailey last week, when they saw each other at Frank H. Ogawa Plaza outside Oakland City Hall.
“He was in his trademark business suit and tie,” Reynolds said. “We chatted as we always did when we saw each other, and I congratulated him again on being named editor of the Post.
“Chauncey Bailey was a friend, a valued colleague and a loving father,” Reynolds added. “His death has left all of us at the Oakland Tribune shocked and deeply saddened. Chauncey’s coverage of Oakland’s African-American community was a tremendous asset to the Tribune. We will miss him and send our sincerest condolences to his friends and family.”
Reynolds said Bailey loved his son tremendously, and would often bring him into the Tribune news room. Reynolds said Bailey talked about returning to Vietnam, where he had done several travel stories.
Bailey had experienced some domestic problems in years past. In the spring of 2003, he asked for a restraining order against a girlfriend, alleging she was harassing him at home and at work with endless phone calls and surprise visits to his home.
Although Bailey received a temporary restraining order against the woman, a permanent order was not issued because neither Bailey nor the woman appeared in court for the hearing. Bailey also filed a restraining order in 1994. However, details of that order such as who it was filed against, were not available.
Derrick Nesbitt was a long-time friend, working with Bailey since 1997 on the now-defunct local cable channel called Soul- Beat TV. Nesbitt said Bailey was “a great reporter. He lived for it.
“But he was very controversial,” Nesbitt said. “You’d either like him or you didn’t. He wasn’t trying to be friends with anybody. He could bring anger out in people by the questions he would ask, and by not backing down. I always admired that in him.
“At SoulBeat, he would do news hours and community talk. People would call in to disagree with him right on the air,” Nesbitt said. “I don’t know what happened here this morning, but he was a good guy. He gave a lot of journalists, interns, opportunities to go on the air at SoulBeat.”
Nesbitt said he felt there was a change in Bailey after he lost his job at the Tribune.
“I always thought he was trying to get back on his track after that.”
“I have no idea why anyone would do this. Chauncey Bailey was a consummate professional,” said David Glover, executive director of OCCUR, the Oakland Citizens Committee for Urban Renewal, whose friend- ship with Bailey dates back to the 1980s when Bailey worked in Oakland as a mentor to young people.
Glover recalled Bailey as a good friend and a tireless advocate for journalism — especially the need to attract more blacks and people of color to the field.
“This is not just a local loss, this is a loss to the field nationally,” Glover said.
Bailey had also created a Black Press Weekly, a compilation of significant articles from black newspapers around the country, Glover said.
Oakland City Councilmember Larry Reid (Elmhurst-East Oakland) knew Bailey for 10 years and said he was considering ac- companying him on a trip to Vietnam later this month.
“Chauncey was somebody who cared about the African- American community, getting news that he felt was not being reported in the major news- media outlets,” Reid said. “And he did an incredible job at that.”
Reid’s thoughts were with Bailey’s son.
“This is another young African-American kid who will grow up with only memories of his father,” he said.
The killing was Oakland’s 72nd homicide of the year. Police and Crime Stoppers of Oakland are offering up to $10,000 in reward money for information leading to the arrest of the suspect. Anyone with information can call police at 238-3821 or Crime Stoppers at 238-6946. Staff writers Paul Rosynsky, Kelly Rayburn and Matthew Cooper contributed to this report.