How Official Oakland Kept the Bey Empire Going 

The troublesome history of Oakland's most prominent Black Muslims -- and the political establishment that protects them.

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There also are numerous questions about how Nedir Bey spent the city's money. According to staff at the city's Public Ethics Commission, which oversees the program, Bey has failed to account for how he spent $11,517, as state law requires. Ethics Commission executive director Dan Purnell made numerous calls and sent several letters warning Bey that he must report all campaign expenditures greater than $100, but Bey did not respond. Bey finally filed an expenditure statement on October 2, but it was so vague that city officials still have no idea how he spent the money. According to that statement, Bey spent $39,241 on just one expense: a salary for a man named Vaughn Foster. Bey's original surname was Foster, but he refused to say if he and Vaughn Foster are related. "I have a lot of brothers," Bey says. "I believe like the Bible says, your family are those who think and believe as you do." Bey also declines to say what Foster did to earn the money beyond noting that he "worked on my campaign."

On October 7, the Public Ethics Commission finally held Bey's feet to the fire. Charging that he had failed to adequately explain his campaign expenditures despite months of pleading, the commission voted to forward his case to the state Fair Political Practices Commission. Bey showed up and argued his case, alternately stonewalling, accusing the commissioners of racism, and claiming that this was an honest mistake from a first-time candidate -- an outright falsehood, since he had run for city council two years earlier.

"It's interesting to me how, you know, ethics is supposed to be about justice and fairness and what's right," Bey said. "But I understand, and no one is fooled here at all, about what the purpose of bringing me here is, or what your purpose is. You're not here to make sure that the city of Oakland and people who participate in the government process are being treated fairly or as ethical. ... Your position is, 'You didn't do it fast enough. We gave you enough time. You're not coming here with a humble enough attitude, so we think we should pass it on to a higher body.' ... So no, I will not bow down to you. ... So I say, do what God puts in your heart. Or maybe I should say more correctly, you do what your puppet masters put in your heart."

By the end of Bey's twenty-minute performance, ethics commissioner Barbara Newcombe was so exasperated that she compared Bey to a naughty child who wouldn't take out the garbage. But at the same time, commissioners still praised Bey for getting involved in the electoral process, even as he suggested that their actions had racial motives.

Nedir Bey has intimidated and beleaguered civil servants and politicians with this strategy on more than one occasion. When the city council was discussing its ill-considered loan to EM Health Services, Bey may have tipped the scales in his favor by showing up at a council meeting with one hundred noisy supporters who charged that racism lay at the heart of councilmembers' reservations. When Oakland Tribune reporters Diana Williams and Paul Grabowicz mentioned Bey's 1995 conviction and asked if he thought it would impact the city's decision on the loan, Bey's answer was classic: "Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison, and he was respectable enough to become president of South Africa."

According to one city hall official who watched the process, all the troubling allegations in the world couldn't stand up to the Beys' incessant race-baiting. "Having people scream at the council just wore them down," the source claims. "'You don't support small local business, we worked really hard on this, and we should be given a chance.' That argument goes a long way. It's painful to stand up to that, 'cause you get called a racist. And staff starts seeing that the council won't stand up to this stuff. When the council caves, the staff knows which way the wind is blowing. Why fight this stuff, get called a racist, and have the council hang you out to dry?"

This city hall source claims that the Beys' mau-mauing also secured plum security contracts for Universal Distributors. "They objected that there wasn't enough minority participation in the ice rink, so someone gives them the ice rink to make them go away. [Community and Economic Development Agency director Bill] Claggett's office was responsible for awarding the security contract to the ice rink. Same with the Marriott. If you're a councilmember, and you see the reputation that Dr. Bey enjoys, there's a great deal of pressure to appease these constituents. An equal factor is the unwillingness of others to stand up to them."

In fact, relentless race-baiting may be why so many people have over the years paid extravagant respect to Yusuf Bey -- whom they always call "Doctor," even though his only apparent degree is in cosmetology. People can still exploit the injustices of American history to make a buck in Oakland, whether it's due to white liberal paternalism, a lingering system of racial patronage, or a laudable desire to address the historic racism of American society.

"What is your real concern?" Nedir Bey asked the Ethics Commission in conclusion. "Your concern, like the Oakland Tribune ... whenever you can find dirt or find something on a black person in the city of Oakland, is to run them into the ground. 'Cause that is what you do." In fact, Nedir and Yusuf Bey have enjoyed some of the most favorable coverage men with their pasts could expect. Although the Oakland Tribune has covered some of their more colorful misadventures with the port and EM Health Services, it has also penned numerous stories characterizing them as legitimate, even noble leaders of their community. Shortly after Yusuf Bey's first arrest in September, reporter Chauncey Bailey wrote a story, "Accused black leader given support," which featured a scene in which one thousand members of the grassroots anticrime group Black Men First rose and cheered Bey, their embattled vice president. Bailey followed this scene with a series of interviews with black women supporting Bey. "It's a trick by the enemy because he's doing something positive," Arleta Bass was quoted as saying. "Jesus is the only one I know who is perfect," Jayla Richardson said. Bailey wrote that the few African Americans who criticized Bey were "middle-class residents in the hills."

But that's nothing compared with the favorable treatment they receive at Soul Beat television, the local cable channel whose morning call-in talk shows provide a remarkable forum for the city's African-American residents to discuss the vital issues of the day. For roughly twenty years, Soul Beat has served as home for the hateful sermons that Bey broadcasts every Saturday and Sunday. Ever since Bey's arrest electrified the city, station owner Chuck Johnson has banned all discussion of the case, even though the issue rivals the rising murder rate as the hottest topic in the African-American community.

Johnson did not return phone calls seeking comment. But reporter Bailey, who volunteers as news director for the station, stands by Johnson's ban. Despite the horrific nature of the accusations, he says, Soul Beat's refusal to allow discussion of the scandal is simply standard operating procedure for media groups with compromising relationships. "When people call me and ask why Soul Beat doesn't deal with Yusuf Bey and allow callers to talk about it, I guess our logic is you very rarely see a critic of a Disney movie making a report on Channel 7, which is owned by Disney," he says. "You never see NBC doing a report on General Electric, which owns NBC."

Others are not so forgiving. "Chuck Johnson is mentally dead," says Tarika Lewis, who years ago cancelled her cable subscription so she wouldn't inadvertently stumble upon True Solutions while flipping through the channels. "Chuck Johnson would put some pornography there if they paid him. He'll put anything on the air for a dollar."


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