By J. Douglas
A newly-released book on the events surrounding the Bailey murder by Chauncey Bailey Project investigative reporter Thomas Peele, “Killing The Messenger” (Crown Publishers), seeks to confirm the conclusion that the leader and two members of Your Black Muslim Bakery, and they alone, were responsible for Chauncey Bailey’s death.
But Peele’s rambling book is so full of unproven assertions, and Peele himself shows such obvious bias in his writing as well as contempt for both Bailey himself and almost everything Oakland in general, that “Killing The Messenger” will not end the long-held suspicions in and around Oakland that more than the bakery was involved in Bailey’s killing.
Peele traces the origins of the North Oakland-based bakery back a hundred years to Noble Drew Ali’s New Jersey-based Moorish Science Temple and Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam down through the joining of the Nation of Islam in San Bernadino by Joseph Stephens and the opening of a bakery in that city. Stephens eventually moved to Oakland, broke with the Nation, founded Your Black Muslim Bakery, and changed his name to Yusuf Bey.
While Peele’s book is footnote-full and clearly heavily-researched, his writing is fatally flawed by his tendency to spin fantasy theories in one portion of his book, only to later present them as “fact” with no further foundation than his own speculation.
Although Yusef Bey, the father of Bey IV, was never charged in the early 1970 “Zebra” random, race-based murders of Bay Area whites by African-American men associated with the Nation of Islam, Peele fantasizes that some of the murders were masterminded by Bey and planned, in part, at Your Black Muslim Bakery.
His proof? One evening in 1974, two San Francisco Black Muslims drove from Oakland to San Francisco, shot five people at random, and then returned to Oakland to shoot a sixth victim near a North Oakland on-ramp.
“The on-ramp was on the most direct route between [Your Black Muslim Bakery] and San Francisco,” Peele writes. “The kind of car, its direction, the time of shooting, and the apparent caliber of the weapon all strongly suggest that at least two of the men who had committed the five San Francisco shootings earlier that night had been in North Oakland, where two of them had also been earlier that afternoon. There was only one place where they could have been safe in that neighborhood: Yusuf Bey’s headquarters.”
Peele’s insistence on placing all possible blame on Your Black Muslim Bakery carries over to the author’s dismissal of any speculation that Bailey may have been working on a story about police or political corruption—perhaps even police ties to the bakery—that might mean that either police or local politicians might have been somehow involved in Bailey’s death.
“[T]here was little record of Bailey digging for anything salient on cops or politicians, and it was well known that he lacked the patience and many of the skills to do so,” Peele writes.
One easy way to prove what stories Bailey was working on immediately prior to his death would be to take a look at his personal computer or his reporters notes. But strangely, Bailey’s computer and reporter notes never surfaced following his death, and if Peele is at all curious about what might have happened to them, he doesn’t mention them in his book.
Peele also downplays other facts of the Bailey murder that have led some to suspect possible police involvement: the postponement of the police raid on the bakery scheduled to take place the day before Bailey was killed, the failure of Oakland police officials to pull homicide investigator Sergeant Derwin Longmire off the Bailey murder case even though they believed Longmire was colluding with Yusuf Bey IV, or the misfiling of key portions of the Bailey murder evidence by police officials other than Longmire.
Peele blames these police actions solely on “bungling” and “mishandling,” with no attempt to determine if they might have been deliberate cover-up acts.
“Killing The Messenger” might have answered many of those questions, either confirming suspicions about a wider conspiracy or laying them to rest. Instead, because of Peele’s errors, Oakland will have to wait for someone else to complete the story of how and why Chauncey Bailey was killed.
J. Douglas Allen-Taylor is a journalist and political columnist and a native of Oakland, California. His first novel, “Sugaree Rising,” is scheduled for publication later this year by Freedom Voices Publishers of San Francisco.