By James Clark
An op-ed was recently published on the front page of the Oakland Tribune that captured the attention of readers throughout the state. The article, written by Tribune’s managing editor, Martin G. Reynolds, concerns the recent death threats made towards John Cobb of the Oakland Post and the murder of one of its writers, Chauncey Bailey.
Chauncey Bailey was a veteran reporter who was working at the Oakland Post when he was killed. He was in the process of writing a story about the finances of a local business, Your Black Muslim Bakery.
Bailey was killed on his way to work Aug. 2, 2007 by a masked gunman dressed in dark clothing. DeVaughndre Broussard — one of Bailey’s sources for the story — was arrested on suspicion of murder, having confessed to killing Bailey because of stories he had written in the past about the bakery and its leaders.
After Bailey’s murder, the Oakland Tribune published an article about the attempted murder of the Post’s editor, Paul Cobb. The article described how one of Cobb’s sources was approached by two men and offered $3,000 to lure Cobb to a location where he would be killed. The source informed Cobb of the plot. In response, Cobb went to the police in order to gain protection for himself, his family and his source.
After the Tribune published the article, Cobb became the target of criticism and was labeled a “snitch” for cooperating with authorities. Reynolds’ article challenges the “no-snitch” culture that has been adopted by many in the local community, and defends Cobb’s actions.
CHP: As a member of the media, how does it affect you to see other writers and editors targeted because of their work?
Martin G. Reynolds: It’s very upsetting and makes me very angry. As if having the audacity to kill someone wasn’t bad enough, they kill a journalist who is trying to cover the stories of the community. It’s real frightening and I mask it with my anger. I’m not some macho guy with no fear for my safety, but I believe strongly in what Martin Luther King Jr. said: “If you haven’t found something for which you’re willing to die, you’re not fit to live.” It also bothers me a lot that Paul Cobb is being a seen as a snitch for protecting himself and his family.
CHP: Would you mind sharing why you decided to make this statement? Did it slowly build up, or come to you abruptly?
Reynolds: It was something that was slowly building up. When we wrote the story about Paul Cobb he got a lot of flak from the community. Both he and his wife were very upset and called us up. It bothered me that there were people from various parts of the community who criticized him because of what was written.
CHP: How did you try to remedy the situation?
Reynolds: The least that I could do was to show that I was also willing to stick my neck out there. I wanted to send the message that I’m not going to allow these people to keep hurting and killing with no one standing up to them. It’s not OK for this kind of stuff to happen in the community and for us to have to live in fear. We need to do what we can to galvanize the community and bring them together. When that happens these people generally run and wither away, but if we don’t stand up to them they will stand over us.
CHP: When intimidation and violence are used to silence the press, what effect does it have on the community and on journalistic integrity?
Reynolds: It won’t work. You can try to silence the messenger, but you can’t silence the message. All the news organizations have come together as a huge community and said, “This isn’t going to work.” It’s a very strong coalition of people and organizations.
CHP: You spoke about those who feel they show strength by remaining silent and not speaking up when hurt or in danger. How does one break away from that mentality?
Reynolds: I think it’s understandable that the people who aren’t empowered feel intimidated by those who have the power and willingness to use violence and inflict pain. Resistance has to come from the community as a whole. If community members, city officials, law enforcement and media organizations stand up and say “no,” there’s no way these people can compete with that. We have to be willing to be collectively courageous. When people stand up for what’s right, it’s not snitching — it’s part of being in a community. We need to be willing to speak on behalf of our own community.
CHP: The concept of cooperating with the authorities is often vilified in popular culture. Do you feel this is a primary contributor to the “no-snitch mentality?”
Reynolds: When we’re kids we’re told to not tattle on our siblings and friends. We’re taught at a young age not to do that, but the stakes become a lot higher when we get older and people can get hurt. It’s something that’s ingrained in us, and that’s part of what contributes to it. The police also have a legacy of inequities and unfair sentencing, which contributes to the thought “Why cooperate with cops?” And on the street level, you’d rather deal with one another than involve the cops. It’s the code of the streets to deal with someone personally rather than put him or her in the clutches of the law.
CHP: Your article seems to support Cobb and others like him. Was this the intent?
Reynolds: Yeah, very much so. Could you imagine how it would feel to be getting death threats? I didn’t get any off of this story, thank goodness. Many journalists get threats, especially columnists and investigative reporters, because their work causes people to react emotionally and it impacts others’ lives. The article was an effort to show solidarity. If we’re going to write stories about him and ask him for information, the least we can do is also step up and put ourselves out there.
CHP: Is there anything else you would like to share?
Reynolds: It’s my inherent belief that people are good, and there’s more support for people doing good and courageous things than for those doing terrible things. It’s been very upsetting, but also good, because we’re standing up for what is right and we honor the legacy of those who have come before us and have done the same. I’ll continue to do that, because it’s the right thing to do.
Reynolds’ full article, “End ‘no-snitch’ culture for sake of community,” is available at insidebayarea.com.