Commentary: The danger signs were there for Chauncey Bailey
By Earl Ofari Hutchinson, Chauncey Bailey Project
Editor’s note: The death of Bay Area editor Chauncey Bailey was forewarned by a history of black radical groups using violence against detractors — the most notable case being the murder of Malcolm X.
There were two frightening and glaring danger signs that veteran black news reporter and editor Chauncey Bailey was in mortal peril.
The first was the shocking explosion of violence by members of the splinter black Muslim group that ran Your Black Muslim Bakery against an Arab-owned liquor store in Oakland in 2005. The Muslim assailants were livid that the store sold liquor in a predominantly black neighborhood. The store was trashed and the owners threatened.
Several of the Muslims were arrested and charged with federal hate crimes.
The offshoot black Muslims thought nothing of committing wanton acts of destruction against a Muslim-owned store. That was a tip that religious and ethnic affinity meant nothing and that non-whites could be fair game for violent attacks from black activists.
The other danger sign is the troubling and long standing penchant by off-shoot black radical groups to resort to physical assaults and even gunplay to settle political and personal disagreements and disputes with other blacks. In the past, the internal violence implosion has demoralized activists, created rifts and divisions among black groups, and has and made victims and martyrs of black leaders.
The murder of Malcolm X was the first great danger sign that any dissent within a black radical organization would be met with threats, attacks, and even murder. Malcolm’s slaying touched off a brief round of near fratricidal attacks by black militants against other black militants. Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan at times was unsparing in his attack on Malcolm and other blacks that he branded as traitors and turncoats.
Though Farrakhan later dropped the bashing rhetoric, and reconciled with Malcolm’s widow Betty Shabazz, the residue of bitterness from the verbal assaults remained.
Much of the violence committed by professed black militants against other blacks has been chalked up to infiltration by police agents, informants and provocateurs. The public revelation in the 1970s that the FBI used a super-secret, and patently illegal dirty arsenal of poison pen letters, break-ins, threats and physical attacks to internally subvert the black radical movement in the 1960s seemed to confirm that there was a hidden government plot to use black activists against other black activists. While the FBI did its part in fomenting some of the internal violence and divisions among black groups that did not totally explain the ease and willingness of some black militants to kill other politically conscious blacks, especially influential and socially consciousness blacks such as Bailey.
The violence can be traced directly to the murders of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X in the 1960s. This was a crucial turning point for the black movement.
Without a leader to command the respect of the black poor and a cohesive program to unite them, the black movement plunged into a disastrous void. The self-destruction of organizations like SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) and the Black Panthers dispirited many of their supporters and left the black movement even more organizationally fragmented and politically adrift. Both militant groups were torn apart by internal bickering, factional feuds and violence.
The dashed hopes, leadership fragmentation, and in-fighting in these groups had a devastating effect on young blacks. With nowhere to go for support or constructive change role models, many now turn to gangs, guns, drugs and the streets. This in turn triggered the horrific wave of black on black killings that has plagued poor black neighborhoods in America’s big cities the past two decades.
According to recent FBI crime statistics, the homicide rates have again inched off the charts in major urban areas. Oakland is among the cities that wrestle with the murder epidemic. In the days immediately the Bailey assassination five people were murdered. The killers in nearly every case are young black males and their victims are other black males. Some of the blame for this can be dumped on the legal system. In the past, crimes committed by blacks against other blacks were often ignored or lightly punished. The events involving Your Black Muslim Bakery bear out suspicions that police and prosecutors seldom treat black-on-black violence with the same urgency as black-on-white violence.
The bakery and some of the Muslims arrested in connection with the Bailey killing have been implicated in a rash of threats, violent attacks, kidnappings and suspected murders of other blacks. Members of the group allegedly shot automatic rifles in the air in the neighborhood to intimidate residents. Bailey reportedly had gotten threats from members of the group. Yet police did not act. Their alleged victims were other blacks.
Many studies confirm that the punishment blacks receive when the victim is white is far more severe than if the victim is black. The perceived devaluation of black lives and often laggard response of law enforcement to black-on-black violence has driven many blacks to internalize anger and displace aggression onto others that, of course, look like them.
Bailey will be honored and remembered for his tough, honest reporting and as a champion for black community causes. But as the past has tragically shown, the slayers of men such as him almost always are those that they champion.
New America Media Associate Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book, “The Latino Challenge to Black America: Towards a Conversation between African-Americans and Hispanics” (Middle Passage Press and Hispanic Economics New York), in English and Spanish will be out in October.