The Killing of a Journalist

Voice staff writer Chris Thompson not only knew the Oakland reporter shot dead by a follower of the Yusuf Bey family, he'd also incurred the family's wrath

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.


Chris Thompson's Other Stories on the Yusuf Bey Family

How Official Oakland Kept the Bey Empire Going
The troublesome history of Oakland's most prominent Black Muslims ó and the political establishment that protects them.
Published: November 20, 2002

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.
Published: October 8, 2003

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."

-- Yusuf Bey, True Solutions, April 21, 2002

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.

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