By James Harris
The statistics were not in Chauncey Bailey’s favor. A recent Justice Department study revealed that one of every two people murdered in the U.S. each year is black, and that there is a 9-in-10 chance that the assailant is, like Bailey’s, black. The stark reality of black-on-black crime has become all too familiar for Oakland and the rest of the nation. But don’t drop Bailey’s murder in that bag. The slaying that took place in broad daylight Aug. 2 was a well-planned assassination that carried none of the traits of the random street violence Oakland residents have grown used to. This murder was an eerie illustration of desperate violence allegedly perpetrated by an established group that supposedly works to foster progress among blacks in Oakland.
At 7 a.m., police say, Devaughndre Broussard murdered Bailey, the editor of the Oakland Post, to stop the publication of a story probing the shady financial practices of Your Black Muslim Bakery, a community bakery known throughout California for its delectable bean pies and politically charged history. Broussard allegedly fired a shotgun round into Bailey’s back at close range and then another round into the back of his head as he lay on the sidewalk.
The bakery, which for two months had been under police investigation for charges including kidnapping, robbery and torture, was raided the day after Bailey’s murder. Police said they learned that Your Black Muslim Bakery, where Broussard was a member, was instrumental in the assassination and bakery leaders probably ordered the hit.
Yusuf Bey founded Your Black Muslim Bakery in 1968. “The bakery served as an example of upward economic mobility in an impoverished community, and its members tried to serve as a buffer against the rising drug trade. The bakery has also long provided ex-convicts with one of the few places they could work after being released from prison,” Cal State East Bay professor Benjamin Bowser said in reflecting on the bakery’s 30-year history. Bey, no stranger to scandal himself, died in 2003 before standing trial for the alleged rape of a 13-year-old girl 20 years earlier. He left the bakery and affiliated businesses in the hands of his less-than-reliable “family,.” which included sons and spiritual sons.
After 2003, the founder’s successors made lots of news, but not the kind the elder Bey had hoped for. In 2005, Yusuf Bey IV and a small gang allegedly trashed two liquor stores and warned the owners to stop selling alcohol in black neighborhoods. In 2006, Bey IV was accused of running over a San Francisco bouncer with his car. Bey IV and his cohorts have also come under investigation for an alleged link to two separate Oakland homicides, one of which was possibly an effort to rid the area of transients.
Although the elder Bey ran what some have called a “racist and reactionary organization,” it was under the twisted leadership of his heirs that the 19-year-old Broussard came to know the bakery. At age 15, Broussard was a winner in a contest for young entrepreneurs at UC Berkeley and seemed to have a promising future, but he eventually dropped out of school. After several run-ins with the law, and spending eight months in San Francisco County Jail for robbing a bus passenger, he began working at Your Black Muslim Bakery, where he told his probation officer, Will Robinson, that he’d found purpose.
“He responded well to direction, as with any 18-to-25-year-old, but with him, particularly he accepted direction without resistance,” said Robinson. “He came in one day and he disclosed to me that he was a Muslim and he had an opportunity there [at the bakery] with them,” he added.
Your Black Muslim Bakery has prospered for years using some of the principles of the unaffiliated Nation of Islam, which was founded in the 1930s. With Elijah Muhammad as its “divine leader,” the group promoted the idea of self-help in black communities torn by poverty and broken families. The elder Bey discovered the Nation of Islam in 1964, and in 1971 he moved his bakery from Santa Barbara to Oakland and named it Your Black Muslim Bakery in response to the personal recommendation of Elijah Muhammad. “Following the strict dietary laws of the Black Muslims, Bey gained a reputation for offering solid, healthy fare that was free of refined sugar, fats and preservatives,” says East Bay Express journalist Chris Thompson.
And for 30 years, it was the spirit of the Nation of Islam that the elder Bey claimed to instill in his bakeries, hair salons and other businesses around Oakland. But it has now become strikingly clear that that spirit was marred by the worst kinds of scandal, and that Broussard was perhaps one of many young people who was encouraged to defend the bakery even if it meant killing.
With only limited access to his confessions, I imagine that at the core of Broussard’s rage against Bailey was his belief that the bakery was doing the right thing for the black community, that the bakery—despite all of its shadiness—was the answer to black turmoil in Oakland.
Teens like Broussard are violent because violence works. It produces the results that they don’t get in school or at work. Violence breeds fear. And when you are poor, trapped and have nothing but street cred, fear is everything and the rest of the talk about going to school and working hard means absolutely nothing.
So I am angry with Broussard for his alleged contribution to the more than 230 Oakland murders over the past two years. But I am far angrier at the bakery. For how could its leaders turn a positive organization into a ring of murderous criminals lusting not for empowerment but for money and glory? Whereas they had a chance to reform Broussard and encourage him to be something better, they used him to further their position. That is the worst kind of betrayal.