Blood & Money: Endgame

Even in his death, Yusuf Bey is lionized as an elder statesman rather than branded as a thug. Meanwhile, his victims reflect.

East Bay Express/October 8, 2003
By Chris Thompson

The evil old man is dead. Yusuf Bey, the leader of Oakland's largest Black Muslim sect, whose reputation as a community leader survived a long history of violence, racism, and rape, died last week after undergoing surgery to remove a blockage in his colon. For years, casual observers regarded Bey as a remarkable father figure, employing young black men, rehabilitating ex-cons, and building a string of businesses throughout the East Bay. While this may be true, he also raped and humiliated numerous young girls. While running for mayor in 1994, he presided over a Nuremberg rally at the Calvin Simmons Theater, where keynote speaker and defrocked Nation of Islam leader Khalid Muhammad excoriated "the old no-good, hook-nosed Jews." His followers allegedly tortured a man for four hours and mounted an organized attack on the Oakland police officers investigating this incident. One of his chief lieutenants may have conned the city out of $1.1 million. He was a rapist, a sadist, and a bigot. And now he's dead. He will not be missed. Not by people of conscience.

For the four women who say Bey raped and beat them -- some of whom provided conclusive DNA evidence to back up their claims -- his death is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, he's in the ground, and you can't beat that. On the other hand, Bey died before the wheels of justice could finally grind him up.

Bey was facing trial on felony counts that he raped a young girl in 1994 and 1995, but his demise has put an end to the prosecution. This woman never got a chance to stand up in court and finally speak the truth that had haunted her dreams for the last nine years, and had to watch as civic leaders and the press celebrated his leadership to the sickening end. Even her own pastor, Bob Jackson of Acts Full Gospel Church, once embraced Bey as the vice president of an organization he founded to stanch the city's growing homicide rate. "What frustrated me was that my pastor, Pastor Bob Jackson, was tied in with him," she says. "I had been going to that church for years, and to know that he was dealing with Yusuf Bey hand in hand kind of just crushed me. ... I think that people know what he's been doing, and a lot of people know that he's been doing that for a long time, but I don't think that people look at that and think, 'Oh, he's a rapist.'"

They certainly wouldn't get that impression from reading Bey's obituaries in the mainstream press. Oakland Tribune reporter Chauncey Bailey has a clear conflict of interest that should have prevented him from covering Bey's death -- Bailey serves as the news director for the television station Soul Beat, which Bey paid an undisclosed fee to broadcast his sermons every week -- but he went right ahead with a sycophantic tribute that glossed over the numerous allegations of rape. In paragraph after paragraph, he quoted Bey sounding off about how his organization had the trust and respect of the black community, how his businesses were bringing hope and self-respect to a struggling people, and how his teachings were distorted by a racist white media. Meanwhile, the DNA evidence that proved he was a child molester wasn't mentioned at all.

San Francisco Chronicle reporter Rick DelVecchio's story was even more nauseating, with its endless testimonies about Bey's civic virtues. "Bey was among the best-known Black Muslim figures in the Bay Area," DelVecchio wrote. "His supporters credited him with creating an organization that promoted the well-being of struggling African-American families. They respected him as a religious leader who opened his doors to the down-and-out and invited them into the business, faith, and kinship network he called the 'Bey family.'"

But that was just par for the course for Oakland's dirty little secret. Politicians, fellow ministers, and the daily newspapers all treated Bey as an enlightened leader, even though the evidence of his monstrous sexual misconduct was as plain as day. Even on the occasion of his death, you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone in a position of influence willing to speak the truth about this vile man.

Bey presided over an organized regime of brutality, but now that he is gone, officials with the Alameda County District Attorney's Office appear ready to put an end to the Yusuf Bey case. According to one of his victims, men as well as women helped Bey secure his victims and cover up his crimes. "He's had people to help him do these things, he's had people to keep things quiet for him, he's had people to tell lies for him," this woman says. After she fled the organization, she claims, Bey posted goons near her house to harass and threaten her. "When I would walk down the street, they would say, 'You'd better get down there to that bakery,' and 'Brother Bey's watching you,' and stuff like that."

But deputy district attorney Tim Wellman, who was handling the Bey case, says the DA's office will probably drop the case on October 10: "I would have to say that based upon how the case was already charged, that with the dismissal based upon the death of the defendant that would be the end of the criminal case."

Nor are Bey's victims ever likely to see compensation for the suffering he inflicted upon them, since their lawsuit may now run into problems of its own. Now that Bey is dead, attorney David Washington plans to pursue a lawsuit against his estate, but some of his numerous real-estate holdings may be listed under the control of his wives, and establishing that Bey was the real owner may prove difficult. Washington claims that his first goal is to establish a judgment against the estate. Figuring out how extensive that estate is will come later.

Still, all is reportedly not well within the Bey organization. According to the first victim to come forward in the rape case, whose children by him are still part of the family, Bey's death may have set in motion a contentious power struggle. Just before he died, this woman claims, Bey appointed a 22-year-old man as his heir to the leadership, prompting an angry reaction from some of his elder sons. She believes the elder sons and the titular head of the family may soon lock horns over who will take over an organization that depended utterly upon one man's charisma and authority. Meanwhile, another victim claims that Bey's wives, who have always formed the administrative backbone of the family, may assert their own authority. Bey's attorney, Lorna Brown, refused to comment for this story.

Now that the family has lost its father, the internal pressures of the alleged power struggle, and the lawsuit that threatens to seize all Bey's property just might combine to crack the organization like an egg. "I feel like this: Once you cut the head off, the body gonna fall apart," says the first victim to come forward. This woman claims that, despite Bey's entrepreneurial ethos, his organization is actually structured more like a religious commune whose members have never had to fend for themselves.

The men live collectively in apartments located across the street from Bey's North Oakland bakery; for years, their lives have been structured around a system of dependency upon their leader. They have never had to assume adult responsibilities, and Bey instilled such a fear of the outside world in their hearts that they may be too terrified to cope with life on its own terms. "You don't pay rent there," she says. "You don't pay PG&E or a phone bill there. He buys all his food in bulk, and you just go down to the bakery and get what you want. ... They're terrified of not being able to survive in the outside world."

But for at least two people, the sun has begun to shine on a new day. This has been a terribly anxious experience for the women who came forward with the allegations of rape; one claims that since she talked to the police, she has had repeated nightmares that Yusuf Bey has caught her. Now that he is gone for good, she says she finally can breathe again.

Last week, as Bey's family assembled at Allen Temple Baptist Church for his funeral, two of his victims met each other for the first time far away from the ceremony. For months, the first woman to come forward had to face the prospect of being the only person to file charges. She had to quit her job, pack up all her belongings, and go into hiding. As the weeks dragged on, the stress began to eat her from the inside. And then one day, out of the blue, a second woman, of whom she had never heard before, spoke up. For the first time, she realized she wouldn't be alone.

On Friday afternoon, this second woman sat at a conference table in David Washington's office. She was wrapping up her story of what Bey did to her when the first victim to come forward walked into the room and saw the woman whose courage gave her the strength to see this through. The two fell into one another's arms. "There she is!" the first woman shouted. "I had to know her. I didn't even know who she was, but I wanted to thank her. It takes strong women! God is good!"

With tears streaming down their faces, they sat down and told each other their stories.

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