Bey family legacy marred by recent troubles

Contra Costa Times/December 1, 2005
By Guy Ashley

Oakland - The themes of black empowerment, self-sufficiency and straight-spined dignity run deep in the legacy of Yusuf Bey and the East Bay business and religious enterprise he called his family.

The arrest this week of Bey's teenage son and a business associate provided another in a string of reminders that the late Bey's legacy cuts in another, more troubling direction.

Oakland police say a surveillance videotape captured 19-year-old Yusuf Bey IV using a metal pipe to smash glass display cases inside a West Oakland liquor store on Nov. 23, acting in concert with 10 other men to trash two stores in apparent anger over alcohol's role as a commercial mainstay in what is largely an African-American community.

The incident has left the younger Bey and Donald Eugene Cunningham, a longtime Bey family associate, each facing four felony charges. With at least four other men still sought for the vandalism spree, further negative publicity is undoubtedly in the offing for a homegrown Black Muslim movement that aims to provide opportunities for ex-convicts and others with troubled backgrounds -- and for the revival of a community that has struggled through years of economic malaise.

"We stand for helping the community," said Daulet Bey, the younger Bey's mother, Wednesday from the headquarters of Your Black Muslim Bakery in West Oakland. The bakery is the centerpiece of the family's business empire. "That's the message being lost as the media blows these things way out of proportion."

For the followers of Yusuf Bey, there has been more than enough bad press to go around.

Bey died in 2003 after spending a quarter-century leading a prominent Black Muslim splinter group inspired by but not affiliated with the Nation of Islam. His was but one of many such groups that took root in urban America following the death of Nation founder Elijah Muhammad in 1975.

Bey's death from colon cancer two years ago came amid a barrage of bad headlines stemming from his court battle over charges that he sexually abused a girl working at his bakery in the mid-1970s, starting when she was 10. Now in her 30s, Bey's accuser said she gave birth to one of Bey's children when she was 13.

Following Bey's death, the transition to a new generation of leadership for his multimillion-dollar empire of bakeries, laundries and security businesses has been less than smooth.

Four months after Bey's death, , the man he picked to run his bakery chain, Waajid Aljawwaad, disappeared. His body was found five months later, buried in a shallow grave in the Oakland hills. In June, an adopted son who was the chief executive of a Bey family security business was shot in an ambush outside his home in Oakland's tony Montclair district. John Bey survived the attack, which remains unsolved.

On Oct. 25, Bey's 23-year-old son, Antar Bey, was shot to death at a North Oakland gasoline station in what police say was likely an attempted carjacking. Antar Bey was heir apparent to the bakery chain.

Tuesday's arrest of Yusuf Bey IV provides a less-than-stellar coming out for a young man seen as a rising leader within the Black Muslim group.

"He still has a bright future," Daulet Bey said of her son. "With the death of his brother a month ago, his frustrations have been high."

Daulet Bey said a troubling truth is being lost amid the sensation created by young black men in bow ties trashing local businesses: that liquor stores on seemingly every corner of depressed West Oakland thrive by serving self-sabotage by the bottle, far outnumbering churches and schools that should be the hubs of community life.

"They went about it the wrong way and they know it," Daulet Bey said of those involved in the vandalisms. "But there are more liquor stores in Oakland than just about anywhere nationwide. If this helps get the message out, then maybe something positive will come of this."

Compounding the problem, she said, is the fact that many of the stores are run by Middle Eastern families who also claim the Islamic faith.

"As Muslims, these people know it is forbidden to sell alcohol," she said. "In their own countries they could be killed for such things, yet they come in and take advantage of so-called lesser people because they see a good business opportunity," she said.

It's a symptom of strains amid many religious groups claiming to be "true Islam" that one East Bay scholar said was bound to happen.

"In many black communities, Middle Eastern Muslims are seen as having an attitude of superiority with regard to their kind of Islam," said Benjamin Bowser, a sociology professor who teaches courses on race and ethnic relations at Cal State East Bay. "And when they do something totally contrary to the tenets of Islam such as selling alcohol, they are seen as hypocrites, even blood-suckers."

Oakland police said Wednesday that they continue to probe the vandalisms at New York Market and San Pablo Market and Liquor, about six blocks apart, which caused an estimated $30,000 damage to the two stores. Investigators said they are still working to see if the late-night rampage is connected to a fire Monday in which the New York Market was torched by an arsonist and one of its employees was abducted at gunpoint and held against his will for about 12 hours.

No charges have been filed in connection with the latter two incidents.

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