Critical details about the deadly shootout that erupted between rival biker gangs Sunday at Twin Peaks will bubble to the surface in days, weeks and months to come, but the hard evidence so far is grim: heavily armed motorcycle gangsters getting into a high-noon brawl near families dining out after Sunday service. Nine biker-gang members dead, 18 injured, more than 170 incarcerated on charges of organized crime with bonds of $1 million each.
Add to this fractured scenario: disagreement between Waco police, who claim management at Twin Peaks’ Waco location was uncooperative in police efforts in recent weeks to stall, sidetrack or prevent what law enforcement intelligence saw as a steady buildup in biker-gang tensions, and a restaurant management that dismisses such allegations — and now has been dismissed by its own corporate headquarters.
As with anything of this scale, questions new and old arise. Whether you support open-carry legislation or not, some observers legitimately wonder how altered the picture might have been Sunday had the shootout sucked into its bloody maelstrom armed family members at neighboring Don Carlos Mexican Restaurant and other businesses in Central Texas Market Place or even bike club members at Twin Peaks who had nothing at all to do with motorcycle gangs.
Is there a chance police might have shot one or more of the innocent along with the gang members in such a hypothetical open-carry scenario? Is it possible that open carry might have made the gangsters think twice about turning violent in what is arguably one of the most attractive, commercially successful shopping areas of our city today? Or should these matters just be squelched because some of us have made up our minds and there’s an end to it?
Questions arise too about the responsibility of business, something our community has reassessed since the deadly 2013 explosion of a fertilizer plant in nearby West that, in our opinion, operated without even basic safeguards, particularly given it was near homes and schools. So what is the ethical responsibility of a restaurant that clearly caters to biker elements with briefly clad waitresses, biker-night drink specials and an appeal to raw manliness? What happens when biker clubs give way to biker gangs that law enforcement says are deeply involved in drug trafficking, prostitution and violence?
When bullets began whistling outside Twin Peaks, we thought of Antioch Community Church pastor Jimmy Seibert’s remarks to the Trib last week about that church’s hopes after two congregants won posts on the Waco City Council and school board: “I would encourage all of our city leaders and developers to really think through what values we want to drive our decision-making and the growth of our city. We want to make sure those values are based around family and encouraging communities and participation and engagement and not just be driven by the dollar when the day is done.”
One thing worthy of praise is the reliable intelligence that Waco police received about escalating tensions in the motorcycle gang community involving rival factions — and the pivotal fact that, when the stars were aligned for trouble, police didn’t gloss over this intelligence but acted upon it. One wonders if they were truly ready for what erupted Sunday — but they definitely were prepared for some kind of trouble.
Preparation and a strong show of force by law enforcement should make other biker gangs think twice about blowing off steam in our stretch of Texas. Skeptics who wonder if this incident has given Waco a black eye similar to the one it drew in the 1993 Branch Davidian siege (which actually happened 10 miles east of Waco) may want to consider how police vigilance and action this month contrasts sharply with both local and federal law enforcement involved in the Davidian debacle. Significant criticism about the raid decades ago keeps the tragedy a burning point of debate to this day.
Appearances do matter, so all of us are justified in wondering if Waco’s image has been irrevocably damaged, given that our city has recently basked in the glow of a national reappraisal based on everything from Baylor University’s national success in sports and its state-of-the-art, $266 million riverfront athletic stadium, which now greets motorists in a mighty way on busy Interstate 35, to the engagingly photographed cityscape offered by HGTV’s popular “Fixer Upper” TV series and its appealing hosts, Chip and Joanna Gaines.
Revitalization downtown and along the riverfront has astonished our friends who have not visited in a while. The excitement and promise were mentioned repeatedly by candidates in May city and school elections. Only this month, we learned that national veterinary programs are even highlighting the successes of our city animal shelter in increasing the live-exit rates of animals from a dismal 36 percent in late 2012 to more than 90 percent this year. Everywhere one turns these days, something reassures if not inspires.
Again, many questions require answers before we have a complete understanding of the Twin Peaks shootout. However, those who quip that we have returned to our “Six Shooter Junction” frontier days and that we now labor under a cloud that will be slow in dissipating ignore the fact that most of those who caused Sunday’s trouble were not local, that law enforcement was ready for them and that the episode is an isolated one, not part of some sorry trend or lamentable era.
Some will judge us forevermore based on this episode. Too many Americans, possibly because of their work-a-day worlds and their prejudices, stand ready to categorize, stereotype and jump to conclusions, facts notwithstanding. Wacoans will sacrifice many economic, societal and cultural gains of late if they allow others to judge hastily and pigeonhole us. The course must remain focused on bolstering our city, improving our quality of life and ensuring our prospects at home and work for the future and our children.
In that way, we place Sunday’s tragic shootout squarely in the footnotes of our history — not in the main text.