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Oakland Officials Funded Black Muslim Empire (I)

From the November 20, 2003 edition of Oakland’s East Bay Express:

Your Black Muslim Bakery founder Yusuf Bey

How Official Oakland Kept the Bey Empire Going

The troublesome history of Oakland’s most prominent Black Muslims — and the political establishment that protects them.

By Chris Thompson 

Published: November 20, 2002

Blood & Money
Part Two: The Influence

In March 1994, Black Muslim leader Nedir Bey allegedly tortured a man for several hours, beating him with a police flashlight and jamming the barrel of a gun inside his mouth. When Oakland police arrived to investigate the incident, Bey’s associates mounted an organized attack in which mob leader Basheer Muhammad allegedly rallied his troops by shouting that white officers would soon die. How did the Oakland Tribune play the story? By burying it on page A-13. And what did the San Francisco Chronicle write? Nothing.

In May 1994, mayoral candidate Yusuf Bey organized a massive hate rally that featured disgraced Nation of Islam spokesman Khalid Muhammad ranting about the “no-good, hook-nosed Jews sucking our blood.” Yusuf Bey heaped praise upon his guest speaker and scolded Jews who objected to Muhammad’s appearance. How did the East Bay Express respond? By running a profile of Bey later that summer that treated him as a thoughtful statesman, speaking of his “life devoted to the development of economic self-reliance for Oakland’s African-American community.”

After years of horrific allegations of torture, beatings, and anti-Semitism on the part of the Bey “family,” what does state Senator Don Perata think of Yusuf Bey? “The leadership you provide should be an inspiration to all concerned over the city’s future,” Perata wrote Bey in August. You can read the senator’s words for yourself; his framed, handwritten letter sits atop the pie case in the lobby of Bey’s bakery.

When it comes to indulging the racism and alleged crimes of Yusuf Bey and some of his associates, there’s plenty of blame to go around. For two decades, ugly stories about the Beys have circulated throughout the city of Oakland, but no one in a position of power has spoken up about it. Instead, white and black leaders alike have embraced Bey as a pillar of the African-American community. Whether due to cowardice, ignorance, or Machiavellian realpolitik, government officials and media outlets have chosen inaction and silence — a choice with terrible ramifications for some Oakland residents.

Tarika Lewis is one of them. During the late ’70s and early ’80s, she called police, lawyers, county child welfare bureaucrats, and ministers all over the East Bay, warning that Yusuf Bey had a dark secret that must be exposed. Bey, she claimed, was doing horrible things to a little girl being held captive in one of the numerous homes owned by his female associates. But no one listened.

Today, when Lewis hears ministers and politicians praise Bey’s work for the community, she chokes on their kind words. “I see how gullible some people are,” she says. “I see how gullible I was, how young and dumb I was.”

If what Lewis claims is true, the entire Oakland political establishment is tainted. Politicians, bureaucrats, reporters, and businessmen have not condemned Bey and his associates but rewarded them — with money, protection, prestige, and lucrative contracts. A two-month examination of court and government records, as well as dozens of interviews, has revealed the following:

• Tarika Lewis, the stepmother of two young girls who Yusuf Bey allegedly beat and raped, claims to have spent at least five years begging law enforcement agencies and child welfare officials to save her stepdaughters — to no avail.

• Two senior Oakland police officers claim that their department looked the other way as Bey family associates exacted vigilante justice in certain North Oakland neighborhoods.

• Officials with the downtown Marriott Hotel and the Oakland Ice Center, both of which were built with city funds, have employed the Bey family’s security company Universal Distributors in spite of its apparent lack of a state-issued security license. Officials at the Port of Oakland even recommended the company as their top pick to provide security at Oakland International Airport.

• During the sentencing phase of Nedir Bey’s 1995 trial on charges that he beat and tortured a man, Bey produced letters of support from Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson and City Councilmember Larry Reid.

• One year after Nedir Bey pleaded no contest in that trial, the city of Oakland lent him $1.1 million to start a home health care business. After the city complained that Bey misspent the funds on personal perks and overinflated salaries, Bey allegedly closed the business secretly and sold equipment pledged as collateral. Not one cent has ever been repaid.

• Even after losing this $1.1 million, the city of Oakland gave Nedir Bey $14,000 to finance his unsuccessful campaign to win a seat on the city council. Bey repeatedly has refused to explain how he spent the money — and may have violated campaign-finance regulations to get some of it.

• The Soul Beat cable channel — which serves as the local black community’s only television outlet for discussion of critical issues — has banned discussion of the charges facing Yusuf Bey, who pays station owner Chuck Johnson an undisclosed fee to broadcast his hate-filled sermons every week.

Now that Yusuf Bey has been arrested for a remarkable 27 felony counts of rape and committing a lewd act with a minor, this landscape of influence is finally crumbling around him and his associates. But how is it that all these allegations, which are documented in a decade-long string of police reports and court records, failed to trouble the city’s leaders? Indeed, why have the Beys enjoyed the patronage of such powerful friends?

The story told by Tarika Lewis makes these questions more urgent than ever.

Back in the ’50s, when West Oakland’s black commercial corridor bustled with thriving businesses, Lewis’ grandfather ran a boxing gym on 5th Street. Her father was a professional boxer and good husband, the kind of man who would leave the house when he grew angry rather than curse at his wife. Lewis grew up in a North Oakland neighborhood so quiet that no one locked their doors at night, but as the ’60s rolled on, she watched the city’s best black neighborhoods hollowed out by Urban Renewal, their men left idle as manufacturing jobs disappeared. Determined to do something for her people, Lewis first joined the Black Panthers, then switched to the Nation of Islam in the early ’70s.

“I came into the Nation of Islam seeking some peace, trying to build a nation, trying to build black businesses,” she says. “With my young eyes and my young heart, my optimism, I really felt that these black people were honest about building something in the community that would change the way people ate as far as natural foods, to establish businesses that would employ people in the community.”

Lewis married a man with three children from a previous relationship, and together they had a child of their own. She attended classes at Merritt College and worked part-time at the headquarters of Yusuf Bey’s empire, Your Black Muslim Bakery on San Pablo Avenue. She even cut the first deal to stock the college’s cafeteria with bakery bread. But trouble was brewing inside the Nation. A culture of violence was slowly growing within the organization, she says, and the beating of women was becoming a regular occurrence. Appalled, Lewis eventually broke with Yusuf Bey.

“My father’s hands were registered weapons, because he was a professional boxer, but he never put his hands on me or my mother,” she says. “I didn’t know what domestic violence was. So when a man starts hitting a woman, that was hard for me to comprehend. It was hard for me to stomach or sit around, pretending that it was not happening.”

Soon thereafter, Lewis and her husband divorced for unrelated reasons. But by then she had grown to love her stepchildren as her own, and she resolved to keep them in her life. So when her husband placed them under the foster care of Yusuf Bey, Lewis tried to stay in touch with them. But for years, she claims, she got nowhere. “I wasn’t able to talk to them,” she says. “They wouldn’t let me. Every time I called down there, they weren’t available. There was nothing I could do.”

She finally managed to see one of the children in 1981. Spotting one of Bey’s bakery vans on 59th Street, she walked up and saw her thirteen-year-old stepdaughter sitting in the passenger van, clearly in the late stages of pregnancy. And Lewis says she concluded — by the expression on her stepdaughter’s face, by the way she hung her head and carried herself — that the father was none other than the man who sat next to her behind the wheel, 45-year-old Yusuf Bey.

Lewis spent the next five years telling her story to anyone who would listen. She says she filed a complaint with the Alameda County office of Child Protective Services, alleging that the young girl had been impregnated by her own foster father. But when county officials investigated the allegation, Lewis claims, they interviewed the girl while in the presence of Yusuf Bey. The terrified girl said nothing, and the social workers closed the case and went home. Officials with the county Social Services Agency declined to respond to these allegations.

But Lewis wasn’t finished. She talked to Oakland police officers, but they said to call Child Protective Services. She called a bevy of lawyers, but they all said that since she wasn’t the girl’s biological mother, she had no legal standing. She talked to numerous Christian and Muslim ministers, but they said they could do nothing. “I tried to alert the authorities, but I got so much flak and nonresponse,” she says. “I went to a couple of ministers — I had to get this off my chest, this was overwhelming. They told me to report it, but I said I already had. As far as the Muslim community, they said he was not a part of the mosque; he was not in the Nation. So there was nothing they could do about it.”

Whenever one of Lewis’ friends told her that their children were about to take a job down at the bakery, Lewis told them to get their kids as far away from Bey as possible. But almost no one listened; it was just too ghastly to accept, and twenty years ago public discussion of domestic violence was in its infancy. Lewis says she developed an ulcer from the stress. And every few years, as she’d once again learn that one of her stepdaughters was pregnant, that sick feeling would creep back into the pit of her stomach. “That was the most hurtful stuff, that all this could have been prevented,” she says. “It’s just really shameful, like Oakland’s dirty little secret.”

After eight years, Lewis’ two stepdaughters finally escaped Yusuf Bey. But Lewis still carries inside her the memory of what they went through. And every time she saw Bey on television, every time she heard a politician praise his work with ex-cons, she worked to keep the bile from rising in her throat.

Although Bey is now being held to account for these allegations of rape and child abuse, his legal untouchability may once have extended far beyond such alleged sexual atrocities. In the late ’90s, Allen Tucker was a resident of an apartment complex at 530 24th Street; in 1997, Bey family associate and apartment manager Basheer Muhammad allegedly led a crew of men in beating him unconscious. According to Tucker, associates of the Bey family did much more than this one alleged beating. In fact, he says, the Bey family terrorized the tenants with military drills in the parking lot and violent confrontations. And the cops, Tucker claims, did nothing to stop it.

“Everybody was under threat at that apartment building, even the neighbors,” he says. “Every Sunday, they would come over and do these military marches. Every time they came around, you could feel the tension in the air. You knew when they came somebody was gonna get beat up.”

Tucker claims that during the numerous confrontations he witnessed, neighbors called 911 but the police never bothered to show up. “The cops would never come,” he says. “It was like they were given the okay, like the police wanted to let them do their thing. But their thing is criminal. One police officer, I remember he wanted to get them so bad. But his hands were tied. … I guess Yusuf Bey’s hooked in with the police or the mayor’s office. I couldn’t understand that.”

Tucker’s not the only one with stories like this. Two senior Oakland police officers claim that their department allowed Bey family associates to exact vigilante justice in certain neighborhoods in the mid-1990s. According to one officer, there was an unspoken rule among police patrolling the North Oakland beat: In certain neighborhoods, Yusuf Bey’s men were going to clean up drugs and crime however they could, and the cops should just get out of the way.

“The methods they employed, we’re not allowed to do that in a democratic society,” this officer says. “The police aren’t allowed to go around and beat up young black men. But during this time, if you were a Black Muslim, you had the permission to do that, and the police were told to look the other way.”

According to this officer, he believed that the department’s posture started with Police Chief Joe Samuels. “Joe Samuels was a very political animal, and he and other politicians were in bed with Mr. Bey and would do everything they could to garner his support,” the source claims. “No one ever reached down and said, ‘Leave the Beys alone.’ But when you work in an organization, you learn what the sacred cows are. The people you don’t mess with. The Bey family was one of those. … A bunch of crap happened, and people were told to keep their hands off. When the cases were clear-cut, sometimes you couldn’t do anything about it. But they were given a lot of latitude to operate. You can see the power of the Bey family politically.”

Samuels, who now serves as Richmond’s police chief, strenuously denies these allegations. “Why someone would involve me in whatever’s going on in the Bey family, I have no idea,” he says. “I’m proud of the fact that I was able to establish an open dialogue and hold honest conversations with the Muslim community in Oakland. There’s nothing in word or deed that has any merit of truth in what this anonymous officer is alleging.”

Oakland police lieutenant Mike Yoell says that while he was no fan of Samuels, he never heard of any such directive coming from him or his office. But Yoell claims that on one occasion, Bey family associates essentially took over law enforcement duties from police officers. While responding to a reported rape at a Sycamore Street apartment complex, Yoell says, the police were met at the complex gates by a crew of Black Muslims, who refused to let the officers in and said they’d take care of it themselves. Yoell implied that the officers went away, but refused to elaborate.

Nor is Yusuf Bey the only family member who enjoyed the support of powerful men. Thanks in part to his political connections, Yusuf’s “spiritual son” Nedir Bey served only six months of home detention after being convicted of felony false imprisonment charges resulting from an incident in which he allegedly tortured a man. An old probation report tells the story: “In viewing copies of the reference letters submitted to the court on 2/17/95, it appears the defendant is a respected, well-thought-of individual. Among the defendants’ references are Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson and City of Oakland Chief of Staff Lawrence E. Reid.”

Carson says he was dismayed to learn that his name has been connected with Bey’s case. Although he says he once offered a reference in support of Bey’s efforts to secure a health-service contract from the county, Carson swears he never even knew about Bey’s criminal history. “I wrote a letter for a specific usage, which was for a contract,” he says. “I wouldn’t be happy at all that he used it for some other purpose. This is the first time ever that I’m aware of any court-related activity on the part of Nedir.”

Reid, who is now an Oakland city councilman, was livid when informed that his name was offered as a reference in a criminal case. “I have never offered a character reference for Nedir Bey in this way,” he says. “When I see Nedir Bey, I’ll have my words with him. I resent the fact that someone used my name without my permission. My father gave me my name, and I won’t see it sullied. I am pissed. And when I see Nedir, Nedir will know that I’m pissed!”

The assertions of Carson and Reid cannot be verified because their letters are missing from the court record. But Bey claims, however diplomatically, that the two politicians stood by him. “I can understand a person not recalling writing a character reference or what have you eight years after the fact,” Bey says. “The last thing I want to do is create division or animosity between people of goodwill and good faith — black or white. Especially between black people. I would hate to have any type of discrepancies or disagreements between myself and the Honorable Keith Carson and the Honorable Larry Reid. I would only say that I have never used anyone, I have never forged any letters or anything like that.”

You can read part two here.

This article was posted by Steve on Wednesday, August 8th, 2007. Comments are currently closed.

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