The Sinister Side of Yusuf Bey's Empire 

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

Page 6 of 10

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."

-- Yusuf Bey, True Solutions, 1999

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."


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