Can We Blame a Restaurant for a Bloody Biker Massacre?
Sunday was a bloody day in Waco. Nine people were left dead after turf issues between two rival gangs escalated into full-scale warfare at a Twin Peaks location—and many are condemning the restaurant for hosting them.
Photo via Flickr user insidethemagic
In a bout of swift, unforgiving Texas justice, Twin Peaks restaurant was run out of Waco within a day of Sunday's biker melee. The franchise owners were publicly shamed, their liquor license was yanked, and their corporate parents disowned them. By last night, they had left Waco forever.
Lingering question: was it the restaurant's fault?
If you somehow missed it, Sunday was a bloody day in Waco. At an afternoon gathering in the Twin Peaks' parking lot—attended by members of the mythically terrifying Bandidos gang—turf issues escalated into full-scale armed warfare. At battle's end, nine were left dead, 170 arrested.
What's curious is who is taking the fall here. Instead of a call to say, crack down on lawless gangs or illegal weaponry, law enforcement has laid the blame squarely on the doorstep of the restaurant owners.
"What happened ... could have been avoided if we would have had management at a local establishment listen to their police department and assist us," Waco Police Sgt. Patrick Swanton told reporters following the incident. "They failed to do that, and this is the event that happened."
Bodies hadn't even been removed from the parking lot before Swanton began hammering Twin Peaks in the press. Again and again, to multiple media outlets, the police loudly blamed restaurant management for what went down.
Details are sketchy as to where, exactly, the owners fell short. A turf war had been heating up for months between the Bandidos and the rival Cossacks gang. Eighteen officers were stationed on Twin Peaks' premises when the gunfight went down. It seems clear that law enforcement was aware of Sunday's potential for violence.
So did the police try to convince Twin Peaks to cancel their event on Sunday? The franchise owners say no. In a statement sent to MUNCHIES Monday night, they claim police never asked them to cancel anything. They also said that Twin Peaks Waco had hosted its seventh "Biker Night" last Thursday without incident, leading them to believe Sunday would be copacetic.
It's a bit of he said/she said; when Twin Peaks owner Jay Patel released a Facebook statement pledging full police cooperation, Sgt. Swanton rebuffed Patel's statement as a "complete fabrication."
Earlier on Sunday, Bandidos members were seen prowling around Hooters and Denny's locations in Waco. If violence had erupted in those restaurants, would the police be taking such a hard line?
Were people displaying firearms in the bar? Were patrons being served when they should have been cut off? There's a roster of questions.
Among chain restaurants, Twin Peaks has a mildly rowdy rep. They've billed themselves as a place to "let your man out"; barely clad waitresses serve up wings and brews and whiskey (spoiler: "Twin Peaks" are breasts). Their biker-friendly events are a nationwide phenomenon, encouraged by corporate HQ.
But "biker-friendly" is a far cry from "condoning violence." Chris Porter, spokesman for the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, says this was the first time his agency had heard of violent activity at a Twin Peaks franchise. "We've only seen reports of selling alcohol to minors, public intoxication, that kind of thing," he says.
But even before Waco's Twin Peaks shuttered last night, the TABC had swiftly yanked its liquor license. Porter says his commission's agents needed time to interview "cooks, customers, and anyone else involved" to determine the franchise's culpability. Were people displaying firearms in the bar? Were patrons being served when they should have been cut off? There's a roster of questions.
Porter says his agency revoked bar licenses in San Antonio and Austin after homicides just in the last couple of months—this is standard operating procedure during an investigation. "It's not intended to be punitive," he says.
At least two Facebook pages popped up after Sunday's violence, both with the purported aim of shutting down the restaurant. One of them, Ban Waco Twin Peaks, already has nearly 3,000 members. But even on these pages, people seem a little muddled on the message. Some people rage about Twin Peaks accepting "blood money"; others parrot back statements from the Waco PD. One comment reads: "no one blaming the gangs for the gang violence? Blaming the restaurant? lol.. too funny."
Certainly bars and restaurants can be faulted for permitting a violence-friendly climate to exist over time. In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is currently trying to shut down persistently problematic nightclubs. And it may well turn out that Waco's Twin Peaks was grossly irresponsible here.
It just seems perplexing that, with 170 suspects in jail on $1 million bonds, so much negative focus has been trained on the venue. There was a time, in the not too distant past, when Waco had very, very different feelings about Twin Peaks. It's hard to remember that now.