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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."
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