Editor Shot Dead in Possible Contract Killing

Oakland Post editor Chauncey Bailey is gunned down in a daylight shooting that police believe was a contract hit. Now, authorities are linking Bailey's death to an ongoing story he was doing on a well-known Muslim bakery in Oakland and the group that runs it.

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

In Oakland, California, people are wondering if today's early-morning raid on a local bakery is connected to yesterday's brazen murder of a popular local journalist. Fifty-seven-year-old Chauncey Bailey was gunned down in what police called an apparent contract hit. Today, friends insisted that Bailey was killed because of an investigative story he was doing about the bakery and the black Muslim group that runs it.

NPR's Richard Gonzales reports.

RICHARD GONZALES: Before dawn this morning, Oakland police and several other local law enforcement agencies swoops down on a well-known establishment called Your Black Muslim Bakery. Soon, at least 19 people connected with the bakery and the organization that runs it, were in custody. Police have confirmed a little at this point, but say the arrest were linked to a series of recent murders, kidnappings, robberies and assaults. The question now is whether one of those crimes was yesterday's shocking murder of a prominent black newspaperman. Here's how it was reported by anchor Dennis Richmond on Oakland's KTVU television.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV NEWS REPORT)

DENNIS RICHMOND: It's the kind of crime you don't expect around here, not in the bay area, not in California, even in the United States. But today, in downtown Oakland. In front of horrified witnesses, a masked man dressed in dark clothing, armed with a shotgun assassinated a well-known Oakland journalist. Fifty-seven-year-old Chauncey Bailey was editor of the Oakland Post, a newspaper that primarily serves the African-American community. Tonight, homicide investigators want to know if he was killed because of a story he was working on.

GONZALES: Chauncey Bailey was known as an aggressive reported who didn't mind stepping on toes, especially those of Oakland city officials. He reported for the Oakland Tribune for over 20 years before leaving there in 2005. He had only recently been appointed as editor-in-chief of the Oakland Post. Walter Riley, an attorney representing the post, confirmed that Bailey's reporting seems to be a likely factor in his assassination.

WALTER RILEY: He was working on a story about the black Muslims that involved information regarding murders, yes. We believe that his murder is related to his work as a journalist.

GONZALES: But Riley and Deputy Police Chief Howard Jordan would not say whether there is any connection between today's raids and yesterday's murder.

At the spot in downtown Oakland, where Bailey was slain, an impromptu vigil has been set up with candles and pictures of the reporter from various stages of his life. A man who calls himself Joel Smith III hammers a makeshift sign into the ground.

JOEL SMITH III: You see, it's another good, positive black voice killed by a negative black hand once again. And I'm wondering if I'm going to be next or who's going to be next. I know this guy real good, and he is a good black man. But I know he didn't do nothing to deserve that.

GONZALES: Another man, who would only describe himself as the graphic designer for the post was lending out copies of today's newspaper with a banner headline announcing Bailey's murder.

Unidentified Man: Chauncey worked the way he was supposed to work. He laughed the way you're supposed to laugh, but he just didn't die the way you're supposed to die. You're supposed to die with dignity. And what they did to him was what you do to animals.

GONZALES: Among Bailey's other colleagues, there's a strong sentiment that whoever killed him, hoping to silence the reporter, may have unintentionally drawn more attention to the story he was following. Oakland police have promised more details soon about the motive behind his killing and any suspects they may be pursuing.

Richard Gonzales, NPR News, Oakland.

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