Chris Thompson, a UC Berkeley alumnus and journalist, died in his Berkeley home Thursday, at the age of 46.
After graduating from UC Berkeley in 1994, Thompson launched his career at the East Bay Express, where he worked for 12 years. He was well regarded for his investigative reports, which exposed corruption within powerful groups and companies.
According to Stephen Buel, Oakland Magazine publisher and former East Bay Express editor, Thompson was a bright and charming reporter.
“He was really smart, really quick,” Buel said. “Talking to him was great fun because he just knew something about everything.”
Thompson pioneered an investigation of Yusuf Bey and his colleagues, known as the Bey “family,” a group of entrepreneurs and reformed ex-convicts who built businesses throughout Oakland. Your Black Muslim Bakery posed as the Bey family’s headquarters as their successful businesses spread throughout the Bay Area.
Members of the organization, as Thompson’s special reports helped expose, were involved in illegal activities and were accused of rape, torture, anti-Semitism and political corruption.
“Every day, he would come back with these amazing stories about other things they have done or this organization has done,” Buel said, noting Thompson’s dedication to uncovering the truth of the story.
In addition, Thompson discovered that political establishments were safeguarding the Bey family from prosecution and that media organizations were downplaying the issue.
When the special report was published, Bey family members smashed windows at the East Bay Express office, according to Mosi Reeves, a freelance journalist who has published work in the East Bay Express.
According to Buel, Thompson received death threats for his reports on the Bey family and was often followed home from work. He was then forced into hiding, relocating to Monterey County for his own safety.
“He was completely unafraid,” said Jonathan Kauffman, a former East Bay Express reporter. “It didn’t seem to phase him.”
Thompson continued writing special reports, including an award-winning investigative piece about AXT Inc., a Fremont, Calif., semiconductor-manufacturing firm that poisoned Chinese immigrants with arsenic.
“One thing I really admired about him was he had a fantastic nose for a story,” Kauffman said. “Not just facts or a case — he always knew how to find the story.”
According to Robert Gammon, current editor of the East Bay Express, Thompson had a good attitude about working at the East Bay Express and had an easygoing nature.
After his tenure at the East Bay Express, Thompson worked at Village Voice, Slate magazine, City & State newspaper and CorpWatch, and he freelanced for different national publications.
“I think the things that kind of stuck with me was that his politics were incredibly left and deeply self, (but) that never stopped him from challenging ideas,” Kauffman said. “He didn’t spare anyone.”