Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums has been predictably yet shamefully silent regarding a laudatory letter delivered in his name last month to support Your Black Muslim Bakery in its recent bankruptcy proceedings.
Last Friday, a federal judge ordered the controversial bakery to liquidate its assets in a so-called Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which is what its reps had hoped to avoid when they approached Dellums and his former protégée, Congresswoman Barbara Lee, for assistance. Both offices produced letters talking up the organization. Although staff-generated, like most such letters, they were sent in the politicians’ names.
Lee backed off from hers in a statement last Friday, albeit with much rationalizing: “Like many people, I historically supported the bakery because it has been an important institution in the community, but it is clear that is no longer the case.”
Indeed, following police raids of the bakery’s San Pablo Avenue compound and other locations on August 3, a bakery handyman copped to the brazen execution of Oakland Post editor Chauncey Bailey, who was asking questions about the organization’s finances. The small-business empire has been consumed by a power struggle since the 2003 cancer death of founder Yusuf Bey, who was facing trial on charges related to his 2002 indictment for child rape. Two members of the Bey clan have been slain since his death.
But the bakery’s long descent into criminality is hardly news. The links between the bakery’s leadership and violent crime were recounted at length by this newspaper, beginning in 2002. The Oakland Tribune had reported previously on some of the family’s alleged misdeeds over the years and, in back-to-back cover stories, former Express staffer Chris Thompson connected the dots in great detail — the subsequent threats on his life forced him into hiding for six months.
That local politicians have continued to support this criminal enterprise would be par for the course. While the first part of Thompson’s award-winning series, “Blood and Money,” detailed the Bey clan’s alleged misdeeds, part two showed how Oakland’s leaders had long coddled and enabled the Black Muslim splinter group, despite its lawless reputation. Among the examples:
• The contracts to provide security at the downtown Marriott Hotel and Oakland Ice Center — both built with city funds — awarded to the Beys’ then-unlicensed security company, Universal Distributors.
• The $1.1 million city loan to Nedir Bey for a health services company that never materialized. Not a penny was repaid.
• The failure of local authorities to respond to serious criminal allegations against family patriarch Yusuf Bey.
• A handwritten letter from state Senator Don Perata to Yusuf Bey displayed atop the bakery’s pie case: “The leadership you provide should be an inspiration to all concerned over the city’s future.”
• The letters of support from local pols presented at Nedir Bey’s 1995 sentencing for beating and torturing a man.
The list went on. “For two decades, ugly stories about the Beys have circulated throughout the city of Oakland, but no one in a position of power has spoken up about it,” Thompson wrote. “Instead, white and black leaders alike have embraced Bey as a pillar of the African-American community. Whether due to cowardice, ignorance, or Machiavellian realpolitik, government officials and media outlets have chosen inaction and silence — a choice with terrible ramifications for some Oakland residents.”
More recent incidents, not counting the obvious, have included the group’s vigilante-style trashing of liquor stores and a bakery leader’s allegedly having run over a strip club bouncer.
It thus boggles the mind that Dellums and Lee would let themselves be associated with these people. Karen Stevenson, the mayor’s spokeswoman, insisted that Dellums’ office has a review process for such support letters, but she refused to describe it. Saleem Bey requested the letter, she noted in an e-mail, but she would not reveal who composed it. Nobody will own up, apparently. “There are conflicting stories within the staff about who reviewed and checked off the letter,” Stevenson said.
Asked whether the mayor stands behind the letter, Stevenson said she was unable to answer: “We have an ongoing police investigation and I do not want to say or do anything about the letter that might hinder that process.”
Some mayoral staffer screwed up, clearly, but given Dellums’ refusal to disavow the letter, he might as well have penned it personally: Your Black Muslim Bakery, noted an excerpt from the mayor’s letter printed in the Tribune last week, “has established itself as an integral part of the community, and its loss would be distressing to untold numbers of Oakland citizens.”
It might just as well have been referring to Chauncey Bailey.