Thursday, August 02, 2007

Oakland Journalist Gunned Down

I was driving around in my car running errands today when I turned on the 2 pm news to hear the shocking headline “Prominent journalist gunned down in Oakland.”

The radio has teaser headlines on every broadcast, but this was the first time I felt an actual chill travel through my body. Who could this be? I thought. Was it anyone I knew?

The news was local and I had to wait five long minutes through the national news before hearing that Chauncey Bailey, a former Oakland Tribune reporter who had recently been made editor of The Oakland Post, an African-American community paper, had been shot and killed while walking downtown.

This blows my mind. Bailey had worked in the East Bay for many years and sort of straddled the line between journalist and advocate on the show Soul Beat on the local cable station. He was not a conventional, dispassionate, journalist, but was very committed to covering important issues affecting the East Bay and African-Americans. While I did not know him, his byline was familiar.

Bailey was dressed in a suit and tie, walking around 14th Street and Alice around 7:30 am when he was accosted by a masked gunman. The police say it was a deliberate assassination, not just random violence.

I know this area well. Bailey’s office at the Oakland Post was at 14th and Franklin, in the same area where I once worked for the Mercury News. 14th and Alice is on the way to City Hall, the Oakland Public Library, the county administration building, the courthouse – in short, in the center of civic life. It’s not a bustling spot, since Oakland’s downtown is a little under populated, but it is a fine area. (There was another murder about a decade ago at a nearby Jack-in-the Box.)

I can’t imagine what Bailey might have written or advocated to get himself killed. I am afraid that there is a link between his profession and death.

Oakland’s homicide rate has been steadily rising in the last two years after taking a dip for a brief period. There were close to 150 murders in 2006. It’s so crazy. African-Americans are getting killed routinely in Oakland and San Francisco and other cities, but the death rate doesn’t seem to alarm anyone. It’s the kind of problem that the governor and president should be addressing, but it seems to be the concern mostly of mayors, councilmen, and police.

We all construct a veneer of respectability and just pray that our lives are not interrupted by death, illness, or calamity. Bailey was just on his way to get breakfast from MacDonald’s, a trip he apparently made everyday. But someone who thought he could resolve his beef with Bailey with a gun rather than conversation intervened to disrupt that routine.

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