Liquor Store Owner’s Ordeal

Henry K. Lee and Christopher Heredia, San Francisco Chronicle, Nov. 29

The owner of one of two West Oakland corner markets vandalized last week for selling alcohol to African Americans was kidnapped shortly before his store burned in an arson fire Monday, police said.

The owner of New York Market, Tony Hamdan, was found safe about 12 hours after the fire gutted his store. Later Monday, Oakland police said they had identified six of the men who had destroyed liquor displays and toppled shelves at another market shortly before midnight Wednesday.

Deputy Police Chief Howard Jordan said investigators were seeking arrest warrants for six of the 10 or 11 men wearing bow ties and suits who were videotaped trashing San Pablo Liquor on San Pablo Avenue. The same men are believed to have vandalized New York Market about 12 blocks away, police said.

In both cases, the men demanded that the outlets stop selling liquor to African Americans, police said. The six men, whose names were not released, could face charges of terrorist threats, felony vandalism, conspiracy and robbery, Jordan said.

Police said it was too early to determine whether the kidnapping and the fire at New York Market were related to the vandalism.

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He said the suspects were not members of the Nation of Islam, a national group of black Muslims led by Louis Farrakhan whose members frequently wear suits with bow ties.

Jordan said, however, that it was “too early to tell” whether the men were part of a separate black Muslim group based on San Pablo Avenue in North Oakland. The Oakland group was headed for about 30 years by founder Yusuf Bey until his death in 2003.

Members of Bey’s group, which operates the Your Black Muslim Bakery store chain, also wear bow ties and suits. A worker at the bakery said Monday that no one was available to comment on the vandalism, fire or kidnapping.

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Councilwoman Desley Brooks, who represents East Oakland, where the Nation of Islam has a mosque, said the fire was “pretty outrageous. Vigilantism is not something we should accept or condone.”

“I don’t know if it is because of their race or ethnicity that these liquor store owners are being singled out,” Brooks said. “My heart goes out to these people, the operators of these liquor stores. From talking with them, I’ve learned they’ve invested their lives and savings in operating these stores.”

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