The murder trial focusing on the conspiracy to kill journalist Chauncey Bailey started last month. Bailey, who died in 2007, was the first journalist killed in the U.S. over a story since Don Bolles was murdered in a car bomb in 1976. Bailey was gunned down in the daylight of morning in downtown Oakland, Calif.; he'd been working on a story about a local bakery and mosque called Your Black Muslim Bakery.
In the wake of Bailey's death, we've learned that the confessed gunman, Devaughndre Broussard, was connected to the bakery. Broussard now alleges that he was ordered to kill Bailey by the bakery's leader, Yusuf Bey IV, and that Antoine Mackey assisted in the murder. Broussard has struck a deal to avoid life in jail by testifying against Mackey and Bey IV, both of whom face life without the possibility of parole.
But the conspiracy trial might not have happened had it not been for a small group of journalists who came together after Bailey's death to form the Chauncey Bailey Project in order to finish the reporter's work. And in the process, the project used evidence in the possession of police to shine light on the alleged bakery conspiracy and forced the police to go beyond the simple narrative of a black-on-black crime incident.
Bob Butler was one of the project's founding members. He didn't know Bailey particularly well, but he told The Root that as a fellow journalist, he felt compelled to support Bailey's work and help investigate the conspiracy that police were initially ignoring.
The Root: How did the Bailey Project begin?
Bob Butler: After Chauncey was killed, one of the members of [the National Association of Black Journalists] got on our listserv and said that we need to start some kind of collaboration to finish Chauncey's work. A couple of days later at NABJ's annual convention in Las Vegas, the then-president of the organization, Bryan Monroe, announced that he had talked with Dori Maynard of the Maynard Institute and Sandy Close of New American Media, and they were going to create a journalism collaborative to finish Chauncey's story. That was really the main goal, to finish the story that Chauncey was working on.
TR: His story was really focused on the bankruptcy of Your Black Muslim Bakery, right?
BB: The story was focused on the bakery, the financial problems it was having and what one [former] member of the bakery board of directors called an illegal takeover of the bakery by the younger generation. In essence, what the story said was the bakery had financial problems because the young guys didn't know how to run a business. And that was kind of it. It was not long on any kind of new information.
If I'm going to be worried about something, it's going to have to be something that's got a blockbuster angle to it, but the story had none of that. So in essence, these guys killed Chauncey for no reason, if indeed these are the guys who did it.
TR: What was the police reaction to Bailey's death, and what role did the Bailey Project have in influencing that reaction?
BB: The police responded to Chauncey's death the way they respond to all homicides in Oakland. And that is that they investigated it; they learned pretty early on who they believed was responsible for it; and they ended up raiding the bakery the day after Chauncey's death — something that had been planned before Chauncey died but had been delayed — and they got the guy who pulled the trigger. And that really became the end of the investigation.
The police themselves said they did not believe that Broussard acted alone. But from what we've learned, they did not do anything to prove the conspiracy. And that became a big issue for us when we found out. They actually had the proof, but they had to do the work, and they didn't do that. It [didn't happen] until the Bailey Project got involved and began looking at cell phone records that the police had ordered but hadn't analyzed.
Our analysis of the cell phone records showed who Bey IV was talking to at the time Bailey was killed. We were able to write a story that said tracking devices showed Bey IV, Broussard and Mackey were sitting outside Bailey's apartment the night before he was killed; the records show that Bey IV was making a phone call from outside the apartment. The next morning, the cell phone records prove that Bey IV was talking with somebody at the spot where Bailey was killed. So [the police] had the evidence, but they never analyzed it.
TR: To what do you attribute that response?
BB: There were several mistakes the police made. One, they treated this as any other murder. The second mistake the police made was that the lead investigator in the case had a relationship and history with the Bey family. He was the homicide investigator when Bey IV's older brother was killed back in 2005. He knew the mother; he knew Bey IV. He was used the day they raided the bakery as the investigator to talk to the suspects, including Bey IV and Broussard.
I think that was a smart move on the police's part. But after that, they should have given the case to somebody else simply because of the appearance of conflict. Had they not left him on the case, I believe we wouldn't be talking about what we're talking about now.
TR: What's the latest with the trial?
BB: The prosecutor spent the first few days calling witnesses who saw the shooting, witnesses who saw the gunman, and policemen involved in the raid of the bakery and adjacent homes where the bakery members lived. Then, on [March 24], she called Broussard, which is really early in the trial. And he started talking about how he came to the bakery, and then, by [March 28], she got into the various crimes … he started talking about stalking Chauncey, and when we ended on [March 28], we had gotten to the point where they were trying to find Chauncey [to kill him].
TR: Tell us a little bit about Yusuf Bey IV.
BB: His father was very powerful, and we know of at least three other cases in which people involved in the bakery were killed, and their murders are still unsolved. So as a child growing up, you see this and hear the stories. You grow up in an environment where, [if] you don't like what someone's doing, you can take them out and there are no consequences. I can only surmise that when it came to killing Chauncey, the people involved thought, "We can do this and get away with it."
TR: How would you characterize the importance of the Bailey Project to where we are today with the conspiracy trial?
BB: We talked to law-enforcement sources who told us that without the stories we did, nothing would have happened. The attorney for Broussard basically said, "Without this work that you guys did, nothing would have happened." Political leaders told us that without the work we were doing, nothing would have happened.
TR: Do you think Bailey's death has gotten the kind of attention it should?
BB: I don't believe Chauncey's murder received the type of coverage that it deserved. Here was the first American journalist in 31 years killed in the United States for a story he was working on.
What's telling is that the day the murder trial started was the same day the Barry Bonds trial opened in San Francisco. There are more reporters covering the Bonds trail than there are covering the Chauncey Bailey murder trail. Nobody is committed to covering this trial from gavel to gavel. The Bailey Project and my colleague Thomas Peele have agreed to do that.
TR: Why was it so important that Bailey's work continue?
BB: There are a couple of things, but the most important one I will say is a selfish thing. If you are a person and a journalist is writing about you and you don't like the story they are writing and you think you want to take that person out — have them eliminated, have them killed — it's important to know that other journalists will come together and finish the story anyway. That's the most important … to allow Chauncey's voice to be silent puts every journalist in danger.
We see it overseas, we see it in Iraq, we see it in Mexico, we see it in Colombia: Journalists are silenced and nobody picks up the story after that because of fear. In the United States, which is supposed to be a civilized country, you can't have that happen. So that was one thing that was very important to me: to send this message that you cannot kill the story by killing the journalist.
TR: At some point in your reporting, you had to start suspecting that you might be dealing with murderers who might have been involved in the death of one journalist already. Did any of that scare you a bit?
BB: Were we concerned? Absolutely … we were worried. We would not go out to do interviews alone. My wife made me get an alarm for the house, because you just don't know. It was interesting, to say the least.
TR: Are you proud of the work that you've done with the project?
BB: Most important work I've done as a journalist. Period.
TR: Anything else you'd like to say?
BB: It would be appropriate for The Root audience to contact the major networks and ask them why they aren't covering this story. You guys are doing Barry Bonds stories every night, but you aren't covering the story of a journalist who was killed for doing his job. That's something I'd like to see happen.
Topher Sanders is a newspaper reporter. You can follow his musings on life, sports and music on Twitter. He lives in Jacksonville, Fla., with his wife and son.