|OAKLAND — The president of the Yemini American Grocery Association said Saturday that grocers have the right to defend themselves if their stores are invaded like two West Oakland markets were hit Wednesday night.
The association, which represents about 300 store owners in Oakland, Berkeley and Richmond, is not telling grocers to buy guns and shoot, said Mohamad Saleh Mohamad. "But if they have a permit for a gun, they can legally defend themselves."
"The storekeepers are very devastated," Mohamad said. "You would be too if 12 men came into your house or business ... did damage like they did."
"This was a criminal act. It had nothing to do with religion, In this country we have the right to do business. We are selling legal products. The whole community is angry," Mohamad said.
Late Saturday, a group of about 30 Nation of Islam members marched around West Oakland handing out fliers, condemning the violence against the markets.
Among other stores, they passed a new market operated by a Yemini man whose store on Third Street in Richmond was attacked by men in a fashion exactly like the attacks on the two Oakland stores last week.
"They told me not to sell alcohol or they would be back. They didn't come back." The grocer, who asked not to be identified, said the attack ruined his business and he closed the store. His new store does not sell alcohol.
Oakland Deputy Police Chief Howard Jordan, who is heading up the investigation into the attacks on San Pab-
lo Market and Liquor and New York Market, said police expect to make an announcement early this week.
"When we do, it will put this whole thing into perspective," he said. "We're still looking at it as a hate crime."
Oakland passed one of the first hate crime laws in the country, following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It levies heavy fines and other penalties on anyone convicted of such a crime.
The grocers said police told them they have identified some of the suspects from surveillance camera video at San Pablo Market.
Jordan said investigators are still working to positively identify all of the suspects in the two attacks.
The attackers, wearing suits and bow ties, some carrying clubs, smashed displays and refrigerator units containing alcoholic beverages. They threatened store employees and told them not to sell alcohol to the African-American community.
Police suspect men associated with Your Black Muslim Bakery were involved. But a bakery representative Friday said he had no idea who was involved. The bakery, founded by the late Yusef Bey, is a commercial business, not an Islamic organization.
The group is conducting its own investigation, the representative said.
Also Saturday, Minister Tony Muhammad, the western regional representative for Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam, said the Nation was not responsible for the attacks.
"We may disagree with what you are doing, but we will protest peacefully," he said.
At a news conference in front of Oakland Mosque 26B, 5277 Foothill Blvd., Minister Muhammad said the actions will be found to be by a few people. "I guarantee to you this is isolated and only involves a few people. The many shouldn't be blamed for what a few have done."
He urged the police to press their case and make arrests. Deputy Chief Jordan said he met with Nation of Islam officials Saturday. The mosque is not connected to the Black Muslim Bakery.
Minister Muhammad was accompanied by a number of mosque members and several East Bay officials, including Alameda County Supervisor Keith Jordan, Oakland City Councilmember Desley Brooks (East Oakland) and Paul Cobb, publisher of the Oakland Post.
Supervisor Carson said he has worked with Nation of Islam officials for many years. "Their history has always been positive." They work with young men and women in our penal institutions and do many good works.
Councilmember Brooks said she also is familiar with the Nation: "They do not commit acts of violence."
Both Brooks and Cobb said they hope the attacks don't spread fear of black men in suits. "The Nation of Islam people do nothing but good," she said.
Cobb noted that there are some liquor stores next to churches in Oakland: "What if a man from a church goes into the store to buy something? We hope he won't be feared just because he was wearing a suit."
Contact William Brand at [email protected].