Olasunkanmi Onipede should know a little something about torture. An immigrant from Nigeria, he left behind a country that by 1994 had fallen under the iron hand of General Sani Abacha, who unleashed a plague of mass arrests, kangaroo courts, and the practice of lashing political prisoners until their backs were open wounds. But now that he was safe upon the shores of America, Onipede must have thought he would never encounter anything like that again. Then he met Nedir Bey.
On March 4, 1994, Onipede pulled his Hyundai into the courtyard of an apartment complex at 530 24th Street in Oakland. He was here on business: A man named Larry Chin had just bought a house Onipede had renovated, and some of Chin's friends weren't too happy about the markup and asked to meet him for a little talk. Onipede wasn't clear what the problem was -- after all, Chin had never complained about the deal -- but he and business partner Olen Grant dutifully climbed the stairs and knocked on the door of a dingy second-floor unit, located far back from the street, safe from prying eyes. When the door opened, five men in bow ties stared back at them.
The men were Black Muslims, members and employees of the Yusuf Bey "family," a loose collection of entrepreneurs and reformed ex-cons who have built a patchwork of businesses and nonprofits throughout the city of Oakland. Onipede and Grant made their way through the crowd and sat on a couch in the living room. As the two visitors fidgeted on the couch, men walked in and out, talking among themselves. Finally, Onipede later testified, the door opened, and Nedir Bey stalked into the room. Bey is the public face of Oakland's most prominent Black Muslim organization, the man who lobbies the City Council, orchestrates media events, and runs interference for the group's elusive leader, Yusuf. At six feet and 220 pounds, Nedir is a large man with a shaved head, a bow tie, and a glib tongue. But he was in no mood for diplomacy this afternoon.
According to Onipede, Bey took out a Beretta 9mm handgun, slid it into his shoulder holster, and told Grant to follow him outside. Onipede's blood ran cold when Bey allegedly pointed at him and issued his next order:
"He said ... that if I leave that building there, they should break all my bones."
"Here we are, the greatest people that ever walked the earth. Strongest man that ever walked the planet. Everything you see, we are the originators of this."
Yusuf Bey's Oakland Black Muslims occupy a special place in the city's imagination. From their headquarters at Your Black Muslim Bakery on San Pablo Avenue, Bey and his numerous "spiritually adopted" sons have spent thirty years projecting an image of upright, disciplined self-reliance, reforming ex-cons and building businesses. Bey has nurtured a sense of pride and self-respect among his followers - a commodity that often seems in short supply in Oakland.
Some say they offer hope to the hopeless; others call them racists and reactionaries -- albeit rarely to their faces. Dark rumors of their propensity for violence and menace have always hovered in the margins of city lore, but this only seems to enhance their street credibility. Got a problem the cops can't solve? The Black Muslims will get it done. Drug dealing in the neighborhood? A couple of bow-tied enforcers will take care of business.
But there's another side to the Beys. In their long-standing quest to build a thriving black commercial district somewhere in Oakland, members of the Bey family have cultivated connections in city government, the political establishment, and the press. Although they are the last to admit it, they have a lot of juice, which they've used to build an archipelago of bakeries, dry cleaners, security services, and apartment-management gigs. They also have achieved a remarkable paradox: both ex-con and businessman, underclass and landed gentry, members of the Bey family have managed to simultaneously embody civic respectability and black authenticity.
That veneer of respectability began to fall apart in September, when Yusuf Bey was arrested on charges that, twenty years ago, he forced a ten-year-old under his foster care to have sex with him. At age thirteen, this girl gave birth to a child, and the district attorney's office claims to have conclusive DNA evidence identifying Bey as the father. These allegations have shocked many in the city's black community, and Bey's organization has hunkered down, hoping to weather the storm. The black-owned Soul Beat television station, which broadcasts Bey's sermons every week, has banned any discussion of the charges on the air. But from Adeline Street to the San Leandro border, African Americans throughout the city are wondering what other secrets lie in the heart of the Black Muslim patriarch.
The answer could be far worse than anyone guessed. A close examination involving court and government records, police reports, and dozens of interviews has uncovered a trail of alleged violence, brutality, and fraud that stretches back almost a decade. Members and associates of the Bey "family" have terrorized countless Oakland residents, fomented racial hatred, and even allegedly threatened to kill apostate women who break with the organization or go public with their stories. Court records and police reports reveal the following:
"A group of up to six soldiers in the Black Muslim organization, led by a senior member of the Bey family, allegedly tortured two men for up to four hours -- and were allegedly transporting him under armed escort when police arrived.
"When Oakland police tried to arrest the men involved in this incident, thirty Black Muslims mounted an organized assault on the officers -- and the leader allegedly rallied his troops by calling for the death of white cops.
"While acting as managers of a North Oakland apartment complex, four Black Muslims allegedly beat a tenant unconscious during an argument about his daughter.
"Prominent family member Nedir Bey has been accused of stalking his estranged lover, threatening to hurt her or steal their children.
"Yusuf Bey has been accused of beating and raping a young girl, forcing her to lie about the children he fathered and allegedly threatening to kill her if she talked.
Yet after all these years of scandal and crime, members of the Bey family still somehow enjoyed a reputation as upright -- if passionate -- citizens right up to the moment of the elder Bey's arrest. Yusuf Bey and his lieutenants received adulation in the press, enormous city subsidies, and, in some quarters, the respect accorded elder statesmen. No matter what they did, their phone calls got returned. Whether it took the form of active patronage or weary capitulation, almost every player in Oakland politics has accommodated the Bey family in one way or another.
If the accusations found in court records are all true, Oakland can no longer afford such ambiguity.
"Somebody teach you the truth, you say he's teaching hate. Who taught you that? Who taught you that the messenger's teaching is hate teaching? The Caucasian."
For all the deference accorded the Bey family, Oakland's taste in black nationalism has always run more to the secular world of the Black Panthers than the racial mysticism of the Nation of Islam. While the city spent the '70s focused on Huey Newton and Lionel Wilson, Yusuf Bey baked his bean pies in relative obscurity.
Bey was born Joseph Stevens in a small Texas town in 1935. After his family moved west, he attended Oakland Tech and did a four-year stint in the Air Force. Since Bey declined to be interviewed and did not answer questions submitted in writing to his lawyer, much about his early life is unknown. At some point, he obtained a cosmetology degree and ran beauty salons in Berkeley and Santa Barbara before trading the eyeliner pen for the rolling pin.
Bey discovered the Nation of Islam in 1964, and in 1971 he moved his Santa Barbara bakery to the East Bay, having named it Your Black Muslim Bakery on the personal recommendation of Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad. Following the strict dietary laws of the Black Muslims, Bey gained a reputation for offering solid, healthy fare that was free of refined sugar, fats, and preservatives.
He also gained a dedicated following among the Oakland black underclass. With his fusion of Horatio Alger homilies and sweeping talk of racial destiny, Bey reached out to lost black men -- ex-cons and impoverished ghetto youth struggling with the ravages of racism, criminality, ignorance, and drug abuse. Bey entranced these seekers with jeremiads of lost grandeur and promises of a glorious future, spinning tales of a racist conspiracy stretching back 6,000 years as he put them to work in his bakery. Perhaps most crucially, Bey challenged these men, demanding hard work and self-denial, but offering in return a sense of discipline and dignity that has come to be known as "knowledge of self."
It has proven to be a powerful force in the lives of his followers. You can see it every week on Bey's cable TV talk show True Solutions, a forum for rambling and arcane oratory filled with impenetrable psychobabble and allusions to freemasonry. That's part of Bey's appeal, as if he were delivering an esoteric knowledge the racist system doesn't want you to know -- a knowledge so secret that its truth is rendered more potent by your inability to understand it. As Bey meanders through his hour-long sermons, his cadre of attendants stands rigid and trembling, eyes fixed to the floor.
Victor Foster started watching Bey's televised sermons at least fifteen years ago. He says he always felt empty before the elder Bey helped him develop a racial consciousness and enabled him to see the human cost of the injustice visited upon his people. "I would credit Dr. Bey with helping me to gain a true love for black people," he says. "If you don't love your own people, then you must be sick. That means you don't love your mother, your father, your wife, or yourself. So number one, I would credit him with giving me the knowledge of self and others."
Suddenly, Foster was invigorated with a desire to help his people and himself. He taught classes on self-respect at San Quentin, learned electronic design at UC Berkeley, and worked in the bakery on San Pablo. Soon he was managing the bakery's day-to-day operations, and Yusuf Bey thought so highly of him that he embraced him as his spiritual son and gave him his own name. Foster was reborn as Nedir Bey. Together with associates Mustafa Bey, Abaz Bey, and John Ayres, Nedir began developing a taste to run his own businesses, and the family established bakery outlets throughout the Bay Area, as well as dry cleaning stores, security firms, and a home-health-care business.
Because Yusuf Bey refused to answer questions about the history of his organization, little is known about the professional and personal relationship between him and his "sons," or the relationship between their various businesses. His Web site describes his bakery as "a multimillion-dollar chain."
Similarly, little is known about his formal relationship with the Nation of Islam. East Oakland's Muhammad Mosque #26 is the official East Bay center of Louis Farrakhan's movement. According to minister Keith Muhammad, the two organizations are distinct and separate.
On the surface, Yusuf Bey and his associates appear to be benign civic-minded businessmen. But according to police and court records, Bey's close associates have been known to occasionally turn to more sinister tactics. In 1991, martial arts expert Abaz Bey got in a nasty fight with the Richmond cops.
And in 1994, Bey family associate Larry Chin, whose sister was apparently once married to Nedir Bey, made the acquaintance of Olasunkanmi Onipede, who just happened to have a house for sale. This fateful meeting set in motion a chain of events that would allegedly have Onipede pleading for mercy.
"Don't go banging upside her head and hitting on people, that's not our nature. ... Don't ever let them reduce you down to that level. And they will try. They would love you to hit them and beat. Then they call, tell their neighbor you a bad man. ... But we don't want to do that. We want to have control."
When Nedir Bey returned to the apartment with Onipede's business partner, Bey allegedly walked to the couch, stood over the Nigerian home-seller, and began interrogating him about Chin's real estate deal. "As I was trying to answer some of the questions that he was asking, all of a sudden he said I was lying," Onipede would later testify. Bey allegedly turned around, walked over to the kitchen counter, and returned cradling an eighteen-inch police flashlight.
To this day, it remains unclear what Onipede had done to earn Bey's wrath. Bey calls Onipede "a robber and a thief," but refuses to go into detail about the incident. Despite repeated requests for his version of what happened that day, Bey will not explain his side of the story in any way, aside from broadly denying Onipede's claims. He did not torture anyone, he claims -- but he clams up after that. "As far as that particular incident, I mean, it's in the past," he says. "The transcripts, I think, basically speak for themselves." Olen Grant refused to comment for this story, and Onipede himself declined comment and pleaded with this newspaper not to write about the event.
The transcripts to which Bey refers consist of testimony from a preliminary hearing that occurred three months after the incident. After Onipede's encounter with Nedir Bey, the Oakland police arrested four men, including Bey, and charged them with three felonies apiece. And yet, Deputy District Attorney Scott Swisher, who oversaw the prosecution, had some doubts about Onipede's testimony. His instincts pegged Onipede as a less-than-perfect citizen, and the marks on Onipede's body, while numerous and unsettling, did not quite match what he claims Bey did to him. The following account is drawn from Onipede's testimony at Nedir Bey's pretrial hearing.
According to Onipede's testimony, Bey ordered him to stand up, and two men -- Abaz Bey and Basheer Muhammad -- searched him from head to foot. Onipede sat on a wooden chair, and the three men surrounded him. Nedir Bey resumed his interrogation. "As I answered him and he said I am lying, that is when the very first blow came to my ear from the back," Onipede said.
When Abaz Bey slapped Onipede's head with a glove, everyone allegedly jumped in. According to Onipede's testimony, at least four or five people began hitting and kicking him. Nedir Bey used the flashlight to beat the length of his body, and Onipede fell cowering to the floor. They stomped and kicked him in the chest, legs, and abdomen. As Onipede raised his arms to ward off the blows, Bey allegedly smashed the flashlight down so hard that it broke Onipede's watch and dislocated his wrist. Two men allegedly pried Onipede's legs apart so Nedir Bey could stomp on his genitals. Abaz Bey stuffed a towel in Onipede's mouth to muffle his screams. As Onipede testified about what the men did, he broke down sobbing.
The beating stopped, according to Onipede's testimony, and the men hauled him back onto the chair. As Olen Grant looked on, Nedir Bey accused Onipede of cheating his friend Larry Chin. Then the men allegedly turned it up a notch. "Mr. Abaz Bey then went to the kitchen area and then took a knife and then turned on the stove right there to heat the knife," Onipede testified. The knife glowed cherry red, and Abaz Bey used it to burn Onipede's fingers and wrists. Onipede begged him to stop. "I was explaining to him that we're in the month of Ramadan," he testified. "That I'm Muslim also, and that this is very unfair what is being done to me. And that I have no reason to lie or even cheat Mr. Larry Chin."
After making a brief phone call to Chin, Nedir Bey allegedly demanded $30,000 from Onipede. According to Onipede's testimony, the Muslims gave him a phone, and he called his friend, California Highway Patrol officer Jeremiah McDowell, who refused to comment for this story. Onipede said he told McDowell he needed some money right then. Abaz Bey listened in on the conversation. After thirty seconds, Abaz Bey allegedly grabbed the receiver and used it to beat Onipede on the side of his head.
Onipede testified that Abaz Bey searched him, pulling out credit cards and $620 in cash. The door opened, and in walked Larry Chin. Thank God, Onipede said he thought -- he'll put a stop to this. But Chin and Nedir just sat down on the couch and mulled over the escrow papers. Nedir looked up at Onipede and allegedly bumped up the price: $30,000 now, and $70,000 later. He demanded to know how much money Onipede had in his bank account, and how high he could max out on his Visa. When Onipede said he had barely any money, Bey said he was lying.
Nedir Bey allegedly asked Onipede what kind of car he owned. When he answered a Hyundai stick shift, Chin said that wouldn't do. "He said his wife does not drive a stick shift, and that it will not be useful to him," Onipede testified.
Nedir Bey stood up and walked toward Onipede. According to the victim's testimony, Bey pulled the gun from his holster and jammed the barrel into Onipede's neck. Abaz Bey and Basheer Muhammad allegedly pulled Onipede off the chair and dragged him into the bathroom. "Do you know how to swim?" Abaz Bey joked. Onipede claimed that as he got to his knees, Bey and Muhammad tried to shove his head inside the toilet. Onipede fought back, fell to the side, and begged them to stop, but the three men started beating him. Onipede said he lost all sense of time. All he remembered was the pain.
According to Onipede's testimony, he and the three men walked back into the living room. As Onipede crawled back on the chair, Muhammad lost control. Shouting "Now I'll finish the job!" he grabbed the flashlight and worked up a frenzy, beating Onipede terribly. It got so bad that Chin allegedly spoke up. Don't break any of his bones, he warned.
Finally, Onipede testified, Muhammad let up, and it was time for Nedir to step in. Handing Onipede a piece of paper, he allegedly made him write and sign a statement affirming that he cheated Larry Chin out of money. When he finished, Muhammad allegedly ordered Olen Grant to hit his own business partner. "Please," Grant answered, "do not make me do this." A fourth man allegedly swung at Grant, dropping him to the floor. Hit him, they ordered. This time, Grant obeyed.
All was still for a moment, as Nedir Bey and his colleagues conferred in the back of the room. According to Onipede's story, Bey returned and announced that they were all leaving now. Onipede would show them where his money was. Abaz Bey walked in allegedly carrying a Calico assault rifle. Grabbing the keys, he left and pulled Onipede's car into the courtyard. Abaz and Nedir Bey and four other men led Onipede down the stairs and forced him into the trunk. As Basheer Muhammad left to take care of another bit of muscle work, Abaz and Nedir Bey got in and drove the car to the security gate leading to the street, where they stopped and killed the engine. Pulling Onipede out, they proceeded to search the car.
It was then that Onipede saw the cop. "I saw two police cars with their lights, you know, on in the front on the adjacent side of the road," he testified. Onipede broke and ran.
"These young men are soldiers. You cannot fool these young men today. They were born with knowledge."
Officer Hugh Kidd and Sergeant Ward were responding to a routine disturbance, and had just gotten out of their car when they reportedly heard a man shout, "Let me out!" According to Kidd's police report, Onipede told him that Nedir and Abaz Bey, along with six or seven other men, had burned his hand with a knife and held guns to his head several times and threatened to shoot him.
Kidd called for backup, and police began their investigation. According to a police source, Sergeant Mark Neely oversaw the initial work, securing the scene and searching the apartment. He found a large black flashlight and a butter knife, scorched and blackened. Officers Steve Shaquette and Jason England were posted at the entrance, with orders not to let anyone in. At that moment, a cell phone belonging to one of Nedir Bey's men went off.
About fifteen blocks west of the incident, at 2939 Union Street, a mob of thirty Black Muslims was allegedly armed with handguns and ready for trouble. They were there, according to a police report, to exact some justice on another man -- one they claimed had stripped the tires from one of their cars. When the cops arrived, they found all thirty standing in formation. Their leader was Basheer Muhammad.
Officer Dave Cronin was attempting to convince them to leave peacefully when Black Muslim Ahmed Hamir allegedly made a cell phone call to the apartment complex on 24th Street. "I stood next to him as he spoke about having forced the police department into a compromise," Cronin wrote in his police report. "He then asked the other party what was happening on 24th Street. He almost immediately hung up the phone, went to Muhammad Basheers [sic] and said, 'The police are making an assault on 24th Street.' Basheers gave the military-type orders for his group to fall out and get into their vehicles. ... I then advised Sergeant Neely that I felt the group was on their way to his location."
Officer Shaquette was standing post at apartment 207 when he saw the Black Muslims roll up. "I observed eight to ten of these subjects head up the north staircase, up to the second floor," he wrote in his report. "I advised them that they could not enter the walkway or apt. #207 because I was protecting a crime scene. The subjects appeared volatile and told me that I could not stop them. I withdrew my long baton and held it in a nonthreatening, low-ready position. One subject shouted at me, 'This ain't no Rodney King.'"
All hell broke loose at that point, according to a police source and incident reports. The Black Muslims tried to force their way into the apartment, and fists started swinging. Shaquette, England, and Neely used their clubs to strike left and right as the Muslims hammered them with punches. Backup arrived just in time, and the Muslims scrambled down to the courtyard, where they threw off their coats and put up their fists. Ninety cops squared off against thirty Black Muslims, some of whom had guns.
"Mr. Basheers was standing near his followers," Cronin wrote. "He was yelling about how he and his followers would start the 'war' tonight. 'Right here and right now.' He made threats, saying that tonight would be the 'start,' and that 'white police officers would die tonight.' He challenged the officers to attack his group, saying he and his people 'would be willing to die right now.' That his death would be 'an acceptable sacrifice it if meant the death and downfall of the white race.'"
Fortunately, officer Marc Andaya had what one police source called "a silver tongue that night." Andaya spent almost an hour calming Muhammad down, and in the end, he and his followers agreed to leave the scene and let the cops conduct their business. After mounting an organized assault on the Oakland police, thirty men walked away free.
"What is the responsibility of a man? A man's job is to provide, maintain, and protect your woman and your children. So you gotta learn a trade, you gotta learn to work. Because you're gonna always have to work to take care of that family."
Nedir Bey, Abaz Bey, Larry Chin, and Basheer Muhammad were charged with felony counts of assault, robbery, and false imprisonment. Ironically, Abaz and Nedir Bey were both standing members of the African-American Advisory Committee on Crime, which included such luminaries as Mayor Elihu Harris and had organized a massive conference on crime that very weekend, featuring Jesse Jackson as its keynote speaker.
From that night on, platoons of Black Muslims were a regular presence both outside the police station and inside the courtroom where Nedir Bey was facing trial. They claimed the action was merely to demonstrate "Muslim discipline," but Deputy District Attorney Swisher remembers it a little differently. "Every time I came to court, there'd be a whole phalanx of them sitting there, watching me," he says, adding wryly: "They're an interesting bunch of guys."
The case took almost a year to resolve, but in the end, the defendants and the DA cut a deal. All four men pleaded no contest to one felony count of false imprisonment. Although Onipede had plenty of burns and bruises on his body, Swisher says he just couldn't risk a jury trial. "I made an assessment early on that it was gonna be a dogfight, and they knew there was risk for them too," he recalls. "So we got together and met in the middle. Juries don't like loose ends. It was clear to me that the guy had been attacked. But it was confusing, it was difficult getting an unadulterated account. ... It was pretty clear he was beaten. It looked like they did a number on him, but his injuries may not have matched with his story. And he described a beating that would have left him a bloody pulp. It looked like he gilded the lily, to be honest."
But perhaps the most troubling barrier to prosecution was that none of the apartment's tenants were willing to talk to the police. The Bey family not only provided security for the complex, it treated the building like its own private compound. According to Swisher, that meant no witnesses. "That whole compound was controlled by these guys, and they don't play around," he says. "It looked like people weren't going to be forthcoming."
Basheer Muhammad, Abaz Bey, and Larry Chin could not be reached for comment. Nedir Bey denied assaulting Onipede, but refused to talk about the incident in detail. "My understanding is that the charges were dropped because there was no merit to the charges," he says.
But Nedir and Abaz Bey were considerably more contrite in clemency letters to the presiding judge. "I have definitely learned my lesson and will do everything I can to obey the law and make better decisions in the future," Nedir Bey wrote in 1995. Abaz Bey was even more remorseful. "I truly regret my involvement in this occurrence," he wrote. "It has brought about much worry, confusion, and pain. I would like to offer my greatest apology to Mr. Onipede and his family for any distress my conduct might have brought about. I am not a criminal. Yes, this episode is and was illegal, unethical, and all the way wrong. I am exceeding [sic] ashamed of my association in and with this fiasco."
In the end, the defendants walked away with a slap on the wrist. Larry Chin got two days' time served, Basheer Muhammad got 120 days' home detention, Nedir Bey served six months at home, and Abaz Bey got eight months' home detention. Abaz Bey even got to keep his job as a security officer, protecting the lives of children at Berkeley's Martin Luther King Jr. High School. Bey and his associates never saw another day in jail.
"White folks look at black people and they hold their purse. Thinking black folks gonna steal. Black folks look at white folks and hold their brain, thinking they gonna steal their mind."
While Nedir Bey was busy with Onipede, Yusuf Bey was busy with a project of his own -- he was running for mayor. This was a precarious time for race relations in Oakland: A crew of black Castlemont High kids were expelled from a showing of Schindler's List for laughing at an execution scene, prompting outrage from Jews all over the East Bay. So when Yusuf Bey announced that Khalid Muhammad -- the Nation of Islam spokesman who had recently been defrocked for calling Jews "bloodsuckers" -- would headline his largest campaign rally of the season, it just threw fuel on the fire.
More than 1,600 people packed the Calvin Simmons Theater to hear Muhammad, and he didn't disappoint. "You Jews make me sick, always talking about the Holocaust!" he thundered at the cheering crowd. According to press accounts, he turned to the Castlemont controversy and said, "You kicked our babies out on the street. ... Let's kill some white folks in a movie for a change. We got to see some white folks die sometime." And he diagnosed the problem in South Africa, which was still emerging from apartheid, as "the old no-good, hook-nosed Jews sucking our blood."
Bey also spoke at the event, praising and defending Muhammad while he stumped for his candidacy. An interfaith coalition of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim groups had rallied against Muhammad's appearance earlier in the day, and a wounded Bey spoke of the pain they had caused him. "Mr. Rabbi, when you challenge us, you're the oppressor," he complained. "Those rich guys really are something, picking on a poor ex-slave." But he took the time to assure the audience that he bore no ill will. Bey didn't hate Jews, he said, because "they're not worthy of being hated."
Because of Muhammad's campaign appearance, and Bey's pointed observation on True Solutions that homosexuals are executed in the Middle East, many Bay Area grocery stores refused to stock his bakery products, forcing him to lay off several employees. Bey never came close to winning the mayor's race, but he seemed to blame everyone but himself. He even told a reporter that Abaz and Nedir Bey's recent legal problems were the product of a sinister conspiracy to keep him out of the mayor's office. "These brothers have been accused, and we have been accused of every atrocity you can name," Bey said in a KTVU broadcast. "The bottom line is, we've been innocent. ... We've always been set up. This is a time I'm running for mayor, so let's use something to frighten the people."
While this convergence of scandals and elections brought Bey's views to the public's attention for a brief period, as time went on, he faded back into the margins of Oakland life. But he never stopped preaching, pushing his ideas onto impressionable young men.
For decades, city leaders have treated his odious notions with indulgence and respect, never subjecting Bey to the public shaming that should be his due. Yet when one stops to examine what Bey truly believes -- and what he promotes every week on his television show -- it becomes clear that this man does far more than simply express a love for his people, as his followers so often put it.
The ideology and creation myths of the Nation of Islam were conceived and refined by Nation of Islam founder Farrad Mohammad in the '30s, when lynching was common and Jim Crow regimes held sway throughout the South. Today, in an age of imperfect but congenial pluralism, Bey still recycles Mohammad's fairy tales and broadcasts them over the Oakland airwaves.
The black man, Bey claims in his numerous True Solutions sermons, is God. Not made in the image of God, but divinity itself. All black men are essentially avatars of Allah, the wellspring of all creative thought. In fact, Bey insists that the black man has invented every single tool, every idea, every system of government and social organization. White people, by contrast, are genetically incapable of creativity or invention. "The Caucasian has never created one thing in 6,000 years," Bey said in a 2001 speech commemorating Black History Month.
The only endeavor the white man can claim as his own, Bey says, is the science of "tricknology," the art of being devious and underhanded. "We black people are not up to tricknology," Bey said in the same speech. "We don't know tricknology, we cannot master it. How many black magicians do you see today? Like Siegfried and Roy, guys who can make elephants disappear, we can't trick like that."
How could an obviously inferior race have mastered the children of God? Bey says the answer lies in ancient history. Six thousand years ago, in a mythic black utopia on the Arabian peninsula, a mad scientist named Yakub invented the ghastly science of genetic engineering. In a series of secret experiments, he "grafted" the pallid, inferior gene from the black man, progressively bleaching his subjects until they grew brown, yellow, and finally white. As C. Eric Lincoln put it in his classic study, The Black Muslims in America, these experiments "peopled the world with 'blue-eyed devils,' who were of comparatively low physical and moral stamina -- a reflection of their polar distance from the divine black."
White people scuttled among the citizens of this utopia, spreading their tricknology and fostering division among the original black man. But black men discovered the white man's plot and drove whites from civilization, exiling them to the hills of Europe. After 2,000 years of savagery, the black diplomat Moses traveled to Europe and taught the white man civilization again, in a gesture of reconciliation. But as the white man is inherently devilish, he used civilization to enslave the black man and dominate the globe. Soon, Bey preaches, a racial judgment day will arrive, and black men will retake their rightful place as stewards of the planet.
Bey says that black women have conspired with white men to set up a racial pecking order that strikes at the heart of the black family. Indeed, he seems to reserve a special anger for African-American women. When the white man brought Africans to the New World in chains, Bey says, he made a point of crippling and humiliating the black man in front of his woman. This so terrified the black woman that she developed a new set of survival skills: emasculate the black man, and teach him a reflexive, paralyzing humility designed to appease the master's wrath. Over the generations, this has become second nature to the black woman, until she took for granted the notion that she should speak her mind or consider herself an equal partner in the family.
Bey expressed this notion in a 1999 speech, "Contract with the Devil." The modern incarnation of this secret pact between white men and black women, Bey suggests, can be found in laws against domestic violence. "The black woman and the Caucasian man have got a system going, an unwritten condition going, that 'As long as he's alright with me, don't bother him,'" Bey said. "'But now if he upsets me, I'll just call 911, and you can come take over.' This is reality. You see, when police come to your home because of a family disturbance, they don't go to the man. He goes to the woman." Later in that same speech, Bey even went so far as to speak up for executing immoral women. "There's a culture and a country in the East somewhere, where if the girl fornicates, the brothers have to kill the daughter. Have to kill their sister. ... In these societies, you do not have teenage pregnancies. In these societies, you do not have children in foster homes. In these societies, you do not have an unmarried woman, an unwed woman. You don't have children growing up in a household without a mother and a father. So who's right, and who's wrong?"
Yusuf Bey may not be the only family member harboring dark thoughts against women. According to one court filing, Nedir Bey has allegedly put the Yusuf Bey school of spousal relations into practice. Just four months ago, Bey's estranged lover Kathy Leviege sought a temporary restraining order against him, charging that he had stalked her for months. On March 28, she claimed, Bey slashed all four tires on her car. And that was just the beginning. Since then, he has allegedly called Leviege's brother and threatened to hurt her and their two children, made numerous calls to her boss for no apparent reason, threatened to steal her children, and hounded her with phone calls and e-mails. On three separate occasions, Leviege claimed, Bey has shown up at her house and provoked confrontations so fierce that she had to call the police. "Mr. Bey is dangerous," she wrote in her request for a restraining order. "He has proven above and beyond that he intends to harm me any way possible, because of his anger toward me."
Bey denies the charges and says the whole thing was just a big misunderstanding. "Sometimes you can be offensive to a person without meaning to be," he says. "What one person would call offensive or harassment may not be so to another person. I would say that my understanding is that me and the young lady had some disagreements, and that we are on very good terms." Leviege has not returned several phone calls seeking comment.
While women may chafe under such iron-fisted patriarchy, Yusuf Bey's vision suggests that the children will turn out to be upstanding citizens possessed of a nobility and generosity of spirit. He promises his followers that his stern example will produce honorable men far removed from ghetto staples such as broken homes, absent fathers, or drug dealing. Bey presents himself as an exemplar of such values. But the sad case of his son Akbar calls his entire philosophy into question.
Akbar Bey shared with rap star Tupac Shakur a strange cocktail of political consciousness and alleged criminality. You could literally read it on his body, which was festooned with tattoos depicting crossed machine guns and the phrases "gangsta," "night stalker," "grim reaper," and "break yoself," according to police reports. Oakland police lieutenant Mike Yoell, who patrols the North Oakland beat, says Akbar Bey was "a little street thug" who once cruised past the downtown police station glaring at the cops, armed to the teeth, and clad in a bullet-proof vest.
Although Bey ran afoul of the law as a juvenile, his first adult confrontation with the police occurred on the afternoon of June 1, 1994. According to a police report, officers George Phillips and J. Smith were patrolling the West Oakland area near Market Street when they saw Bey's green Chevy Nova run a stoplight. Phillips pulled a U-turn and began to follow the car, but Bey floored it down the road. At 44th Street and Market, the car hit a grade and flew through the air. "The passengers were thrown violently into the passenger door, then pitched back toward the middle of the forward compartment," Phillips wrote. "Northbound and southbound traffic was forced to activate brakes to avoid collision."
The car sped on, fishtailing through another intersection and racing south. As Phillips gave chase, Bey pitched a silver 9mm handgun out of the window. Finally, Bey stopped and was taken into custody. Inside the car, police discovered that Bey's passenger, Donald Cook, was holding a two-year-old child on his lap during the chase. The gun, it turned out, had been stolen during a burglary a year earlier.
Akbar Bey was charged with felony counts of carrying a concealed weapon and evading the police, but he wouldn't live long enough to stand trial. Exactly three months later, he was hanging out with some friends outside the old Omni nightclub near the corner of Shattuck Avenue and 50th Street. Among the men in the crowd was Lavelle Stewart, a local drug dealer. Everyone was having a good time drinking and sampling Stewart's weed until the dealer got ready to leave. Then things turned ugly.
According to court records, Stewart looked in his car and noticed that someone had stolen $1,200 worth of drugs. Turning on the crowd, he said he shouted, "One of you motherfuckers know what happened to my weed. We've been out here enjoying ourselves all day, and my shit didn't just come up missing like this." As Bey and his friends began arguing, Stewart said, "It's like this," pulled a .357 "bulldog" Magnum from his waistband, and shot Bey four times. Two bullets smashed his jaw and passed through his brain, and two rounds hit him in the chest. Stewart was sentenced to sixty years in prison. According to court records, the pathologist concluded that Akbar Bey was high on heroin or morphine at the time of his death.
"If I say that the original people inherited power from the creator, can you see that the original people being the only people on the earth, so therefore the earth was made for the black people?"
Life under the watchful eye of the Bey family can't be easy. For the residents of the apartment complex at 530 24th Street, the standoff with the cops must have been truly terrifying, especially since they knew the Bey family -- and Basheer Muhammad, the apartment manager -- would be back the very next day.
According to court records, tenant Allen Tucker got a taste of what it was like to cross swords with Muhammad. On March 23, 1997, Tucker's six-year-old daughter complained that Muhammad's twelve-year-old son had kicked her. Angered, Tucker strode out to the parking lot and scolded the boy: Don't be kicking my little girl, he said, 'cause she's just six, and you could seriously hurt her. Muhammad's wife heard Tucker and poked her head out of her second-story window. "The mother told me not to be talking to her son in the manner I was," Tucker later told the police. "I told the boy's mother to send the boy's father over to me, so I can talk to him."
An hour later, Muhammad arrived at Tucker's door -- but he wasn't alone. Four men stood behind him, dressed in suits. Muhammad kicked the door, and Tucker opened it and began to argue. The air was thick with tension. "I could tell that something was going to happen," a witness named Curran Warren later told the police.
Tucker said he was sick and tired of Muhammad's kids hitting on his little girl, and Muhammad took off his jacket, fists at the ready. "I asked him if he was going to fight me," Tucker told the police. "Basheer told me to swing first. I told him that I'm not going to fight, so I turned my back on him. That's when all of them jumped me."
According to witness statements, one of the men grabbed Tucker in a choke hold, and the rest started beating him. They punched and kicked him till he fell to the floor, then stomped on his prone body. "Basheer then swung and hit Allen in the face," nearby tenant Charles Caldwell said in a police statement. "Allen was covering himself, and the others grabbed him and began hitting and kicking him. They then rammed him into the wall. They then pushed him into his house and began beating him inside the house. Allen began bleeding from the face and was out. They picked him up and continued hitting him in the face. Basheer then said, 'That's enough, all.'"
According to Tucker's cousin Yussabbih Tucker, all four men continued stomping on Tucker even after he passed out, and blood was trickling from his mouth. Yussabbih Tucker ran back to her apartment and called 911, then raced back to the parking lot to keep the men from leaving. Just as they were turning on her, the police arrived.
Tucker was left with swelling bruises around both temples, a gash in his lip, and a three-inch laceration on his leg. All four men were arrested, but the charges were ultimately dismissed.
"My apologies are to God Allah. If he can forgive me, I'm going back to work for my community."
You might say the Bey family has been busy during the last nine years. But you wouldn't know it from the coverage they've received in the local press, including this newspaper. Virtually none of these arrests, confrontations, and allegations received the scrutiny they deserved, and Yusuf Bey and his followers have been able to continue presenting themselves as role models for impoverished, fatherless children. In some quarters of the city, they've accumulated a populist moral currency that politicians and social workers could never hope to equal. They are, in a word, righteous.
June may have marked the beginning of Yusuf Bey's downfall. A woman out of Bey's distant past contacted the Oakland police and claimed that he impregnated her in 1982, when she was just thirteen years old. After a brief investigation, the OPD Special Victims Unit served Bey with a search warrant for a tissue sample, which he provided. He refused to speak to the police about the investigation, but officer Jim Saleda claims DNA tests confirm that Bey is the father. Bey turned himself in on September 19 after police issued a warrant for his arrest.
One month ago, the woman filed a request for a temporary restraining order keeping Bey, whom she refers to as the "Respondent," far away from her and her family. In this request, she told her story in chilling detail.
"I first met with Respondent when I was eight years old," the woman wrote. "When I was ten years old, I went to live with Respondent as a foster child in his home with his wife, Nora Bey. Respondent started sexually assaulting me at about that time. He threatened to kill me if I told anybody. He also beat me with his hands and other objects. When I was thirteen years old, I gave birth to a child fathered by Respondent. The violence and threats of physical harm continued, as did the repeated rapes. I did not tell anyone for fear of my life and the life of my child. I had no family other than Respondent's wife, who was aware of the rapes but did nothing. ...
"I had absolutely no money or means of support, because Respondent forced me to lie about the father of the children to get on welfare. He then took those checks for his own personal use. I managed to escape from Respondent after he beat me during my third pregnancy. At that time, I was not permitted to take any of my personal property with me. After I left, Respondent threatened to have me floating in a river if I ever divulged any of these crimes."
For nearly two decades, the woman claims, she kept silent. Then one day, Bey started trying to get their daughter to "take a ride with him." Fearing for her child, she went to the police. After the DNA test was conducted, the woman claims, Bey contacted her and threatened to kill her unless she put a stop to the investigation. "This threat has made me and my children fear for our lives," she wrote. "I have left my place of residence and have kept my whereabouts concealed from Respondent and his supporters. I have witnessed several people physically harmed by Respondent. ... Thus, I take Respondent's threats very seriously."
Bey refused to answer questions about this or any other issue in this story. But the scandal has broken the levee of silence that surrounds the Bey family, and the floodwaters are rising. Bey's next court date is November 14, and he will soon face trial on a felony count of lewd conduct with a girl less than fourteen years old.
But why has it taken so long for all these allegations, the torture and rapes and beatings, to come before the public? Why has Bey commanded the respect and admiration of so many people -- and why were so many civic leaders eager to call him friend? Countless Oakland leaders have offered the Bey family their services. It's time for them to answer for it.