A liquor store was heavily damaged by an apparent arson fire Monday, just days after it was trashed by well-dressed vandals who told the owners to stop selling alcohol to black people, authorities said.
Police had no suspects in the fire, which was reported about 1 a.m. They refused to say whether they believed the blaze at New York Market was connected to vandalism last week at the store and the nearby San Pablo Market and Liquor in West Oakland.
Workers at both stores said that a group of about a dozen men dressed in suits and bow ties stormed into the shops, smashed liquor bottles and knocked over racks of food. The attack at San Pablo Market and Liquor was captured on a video surveillance camera, showing several men smashing glass display windows.
The suspects, all of whom were black, told the owners to stop selling alcohol to black people, authorities said.
Investigators were looking into the incidents as hate crimes because the stores' owners are of Middle Eastern descent and are Muslims, Deputy Police Chief Howard Jordan said Monday.
Minister Tony Muhammad, West Coast leader for the Nation of Islam, has spoken out against allegations the group was connected to the vandalism and condemned the acts. Oakland police said the group's members, known for wearing suits and bow ties, were not under investigation.
Muhammad said that although Islam forbids the use of alcohol, he denounced the violence, saying the vandalism was the wrong approach.
"Our job is to kill the appetite (for alcohol) in the black community," Muhammad told the San Francisco Chronicle.
He did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment Monday.
Jordan has declined, however, to say whether a separate black Muslim group, which operates the Your Black Muslim Bakery store chain and whose members also wear suits and bow ties, was under investigation.
In January 1993, Muslims affiliated with the bakery were involved in a similar incident at a North Richmond store, police said.
Yusuf Bey IV, a bakery official, said last week that he only learned of the incidents in media reports.
"I have no idea who could have done this because there are a whole lot of Muslims around here," Bey told the Oakland Tribune.