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Police arrest 7 in slaying of editor

August 04, 2007|John M. Glionna and Steve Chawkins | Times Staff Writers

OAKLAND — Police investigating the execution-style killing of a journalist raided a bakery run by a Black Muslim splinter group Friday and seized weapons they said linked the group to the crime.

Just before dawn, scores of officers in riot gear descended from heavily armed vehicles and stormed Your Black Muslim Bakery and three nearby residences. Seven people were arrested and numerous weapons were seized in the military-style operation.

The brazen slaying Thursday of Oakland Post Editor Chauncey Bailey has shocked Bay Area residents as well as journalists nationwide.

At a news conference Friday, police sketched a few details of the operation that they say captured Bailey's killers.

"We have scientific evidence that links the firearms to the murder of Chauncey Bailey" as well as two other recent killings, Deputy Chief Howard Jordan said the day after Bailey was shot in broad daylight while walking to work.

The masked gunman fled in a van, said a police spokesman, who described the attack as the work of a contract killer.

A lawyer for the Post, a black-owned weekly, said Friday that Bailey was working on a piece examining financial allegations against the bakery, which has filed for bankruptcy. Bailey was also working on a separate story on youth violence, but the attorney said he did not believe that the group was a focus of that story.

"He was working on several stories, including one about financial allegations against the group," attorney Walter Riley said. "None of them were at the publication stage. They were still looking for confirmation."

Riley said he believed that Bailey was targeted because of his work as a journalist. "There is no indication there was a personal motive in this," he said.

Post Publisher Paul Cobb was more circumspect about whether Bailey was killed in retaliation for his digging.

"I don't know if there's a connection," he said. "I think that in terms of sequence of events, both are happening within a 48-hour period. But that bridge in Minneapolis fell too. Is that connected as well? I don't want to link things until I am sure."

Your Black Muslim Bakery is an Oakland institution founded in the 1960s by a charismatic entrepreneur and spiritual leader named Yusuf Ali Bey Sr., who died in 2003. The group he established is unrelated to the Nation of Islam.

The business, which filed for bankruptcy protection last fall, provides baked goods to natural food stores in the Bay Area. The group's leaders boasted of the jobs and moral direction they provided to a legion of down-and-out workers -- claims tarnished by accusations that Bey raped young female employees and that his followers used brutal tactics against critics.

Joseph Debro, a business columnist for the Post, said Bailey called him last week and asked for information he planned to use in a piece about the bakery's bankruptcy proceedings.

"He asked me the difference between bankruptcy chapters 11, 7 and 13, and when I asked him why, he said he was doing an article on Your Black Muslim Bakery," Debro said. "There was no anxiety or worry. It was just routine. Chauncey worked on a bunch of stories at one time."

Bailey, the father of a teenage son, was promoted in June to editor of the Post, where he had covered politics and community news. Previously, he had worked as a reporter at the Oakland Tribune and the Detroit News, in addition to hosting commentary shows on radio and TV stations in Oakland.

The exact motive for killing Bailey remains unclear, but his death was widely viewed as an attack on journalism.

Neil Henry, interim dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at UC Berkeley, called Bailey's killing "an assault on civic institutions we cherish."

"While the full reasons behind Bailey's execution-style killing are yet unknown, it seems clear that it represents not only a tragic new example of the escalating wages of violence in Oakland, it also is likely a chilling reminder that in America, too, truth seeking requires vigilant protections," Henry said in a statement.

According to an advocacy group called the Committee to Protect Journalists, the last assassination of a journalist in the U.S. occurred 14 years ago. The most famous was in 1976, when Arizona Republic reporter Don Bolles, who frequently wrote about organized crime, was killed by a bomb beneath his car.

Police said Friday that they conducted the raids anticipating violent resistance.

"We were facing some pretty serious people," Oakland Deputy Chief David Kozicki said. "We knew they were armed, and we knew we had to go into this with proper resources."

The most recent police investigation of the bakery was sparked by incidents of alleged kidnapping, robbery and torture in November 2006 and in May. After two killings outside the bakery within four days last month, Oakland police sought help from other departments.

Officers would not disclose the similarities among the crimes or details of the July killings outside the bakery.

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