A new book by Oakland writer Thomas Peele called Killing the Messenger just recently hit shelves. The subtitle, "A story of radical faith, racism's backlash, and the assassination of a journalist," sums up well what Peele has done here, which is essentially to begin at the beginning, with the rise of Black Muslims in 1930s Detroit, and trace the line through to the bastardized and radicalized dogma of Yusuf Bey's Your Black Muslim Bakery and the empire/crime syndicate he created in Oakland, which was ultimately responsible for killing a journalist who was investigating them.
In an interview today with Oakland North, Peele describes how he can kind of sympathize with Devaughdre Broussard, the then 19-year-old who was convicted of murdering Oakland Post writer Chauncey Bailey in 2007, at the behest of Yusuf Bey IV who also received a life sentence for the murder, as well as two others. He says, "[Broussard] tried a GED program, but there is just very little in the way of programs to help the Devaughndre Broussards of the world: young African American men becoming adults, bouncing back and forth between maybe becoming productive members of society versus slipping into criminal elements, and there’s just not enough lifelines in society to pull them into being productive members of society."
But ultimately, this is story about Your Black Muslim Bakery and the crimes and corruption they were able to conceal, right under the city's nose, before spiraling out of control. Peele's book reads like "a who’s who of Oakland," as Oakland North points out, because the elder Bey was very connected to much of what happened in the city. While on the hook for a million-dollar loan from the City of Oakland, Bey had a sit-down with prospective mayor Jerry Brown, who greatly wanted Bey's endorsement on behalf of the African-American community. Meanwhile, other big Oakland players like Don Perata, Ron Dellums, and Barbara Lee helped Bey in other financial ways, getting him vending contracts and helping stave off the bakery's bankruptcy.
It sounds like a fascinating and exhaustive look at a contemporary piece of Oakland's political and social history, and a great read. Regarding the legacy of Bailey, Peele adds,
"[He was] a committed and un-flashy community journalist who understood the value of reporting on a traditionally under-covered community. He was a straight-ahead reporter. He was 12 inches and out, and there’s nothing wrong with that."
Never a fan of Amazon, Peele encourages people to find the book in a local independent bookstore. (Read an excerpt here.) He'll be reading and signing books at Bookshop Benecia on Thursday.
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