Chauncey Bailey Project

Commentary: Democracy’s high crime – killing a journalist

Pallbearers carry out the casket containing the body of Oakland Post editor Chauncey Bailey following funeral services for the slain journalist Aug. 8, 2007, in Oakland (D. Ross  Cameron/Oakland Tribune)
Pallbearers carry out the casket containing the body of Oakland Post editor Chauncey Bailey following funeral services for the slain journalist Aug. 8, 2007, in Oakland (D. Ross Cameron/Oakland Tribune)

Pallbearers carry out the casket containing the body of Oakland Post editor Chauncey Bailey following funeral services for the slain journalist Aug. 8, 2007, in Oakland (D. Ross Cameron/Oakland Tribune)

By Emil Guillermo, Asian Week

I learned of Chauncey Bailey’s death as I stood in a Miami hotel during a journalists’ convention last week.

I had bumped into an old friend reading the breaking news on his PDA. He couldn’t believe the word choice in the story. It said Chauncey Bailey was “assassinated.”

It was as if my friend couldn’t imagine that word associated with a newsman’s death. Perhaps his sensitivities were off kilter from being around too many Connie Chung-wannabes.

Or maybe, given the limitations of mainstream journalism, my friend had simply covered too many mundane stories that turn one into a calcified pro, what I call “news-stone.” Cover enough routine press conferences and it’s hard to imagine the death of a journalist ever rising to the status of “assassination.” Why waste the bullets?

Surely, “assassination” was a word preserved for the deaths of people who really matter in our democracy, like presidents, advocates, idealists and believers. But a journalist?

Then again, my colleague didn’t know Chauncey Bailey.

Chauncey was a journalist with a capital “J,” the kind who still have the nerve to go deep into a project, doggedly root it out and write a story that can strike fear in the hearts of his subjects. The truth has a way of doing that.

Most mainstream journalists don’t do news the way Chauncey did. But Chauncey was a man of the community, not a man of comfort.

And what he did know killed him.

AN AUTHORITATIVE BLACK VOICE

I first met Chauncey while I was executive producer and host of the TV program New California Media, which featured discussions on the ethnic press and the stories of our multi-cultural communities. When the topic required getting the pulse of the black community, there was only one voice who could speak with authority. Chauncey was always my “go-to guy.”

Chauncey always looked like a banker, stylishly dressed in a suit and tie. Maybe it was the TV aspect that puts everyone in Sunday clothes. But it was also indicative of his sense of respect for his profession and his own sense of self-worth. As a journalist, Chauncey’s currency was news and information. He knew his subjects and could articulate them on demand.

New America Media posted a clip of an interview I did with Chauncey on the show. It was Chauncey speaking with authority about the stories in the black press that the greater community needed to hear. I was astonished at how it still plays true.

Through these conversations under the klieg lights, Chauncey and I became friends. We had both had some mainstream success in our respective mediums. He was at the Detroit Free Press and the Oakland Tribune. I had been a host at National Public Radio in Washington and a major market network TV reporter.

But now we were taking stories developed in ethnic media and bringing them to a much broader audience than our individual communities. We were in new territory going cross-cultural, expanding the audience, and sharing our passion.

We once talked about someday doing more cross-cultural projects together. Another TV show? A documentary? Chauncey would have been a great partner.

We had lost touch until just last week. I didn’t realize he was editor of the Oakland Post. Tom Berkeley, the former owner, publisher, editor was a real champion. The job seemed readymade for Chauncey.

But in an odd way it explained his death. When you report loudly and vigorously with a sense of passion, journalism can become a matter of life and death.

MORE ARRESTS?

Chauncey had been digging into the finances of Your Black Muslim Bakery. It was enough to make Devaughndre Broussard, 19, a handyman for a black Muslim splinter group, seek out Chauncey and gun him down. Oakland Police now have Broussard’s confession, and hint at conspiracy, with more arrests to come.

I’m still a little surprised at the reaction of the national media. It’s as if this were small town news, local police blotter fare. Are they out of touch? More than another “routine” black-on-black urban homicide, this is a crime that strikes at the core of our democracy.

Journalists are killed in fledgling democracies of the Third World. They’re not supposed to be shot in America.

I’m actually more shocked at the non-reaction at the recent Asian American Journalist Association convention. No public mention was made by leadership. When AAJA honored members who had died at its convention-ending banquet, what would have been a nice touch became a missed opportunity. A year before the next Unity convention for journalists of color, AAJA showed neither unity nor a clue.

But my spirits have been lifted. I’ve just returned from Chauncey’s funeral, a diverse and righteous affair, where Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums challenged the community to restore safety, come together, honor Chauncey and “embrace the quality of human life.”

Chauncey, the dogged journalist, is now the inspiration for a renewed effort for unity and brotherhood in the city he loved.

At that point, my old friend was truly transformed. Assassination bestows martyrdom.

Reach Emil Guillermo at emil@amok.com.

 

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