Violent criminal gangs: old problem, new outbreak

Gangland crime is nothing new in Texas, and that may be the scariest thing about the Sunday shootings in Waco that left nine motorcyclists dead.

Criminal gangs have mingled among law-abiding motorcyclists on Texas highways for at least 50 years. One gang, the Bandidos, is ranked alongside the Aryan Brotherhood, Bloods and Crips by state officials as a major criminal enterprise and a violent threat to public safety.

Yet in an age of global terrorism and 24-hour news reports on random violence states away, somehow we pay less attention to organized crime here, or to the risk from a few lawless bikers who also carry weapons and grudges.

Any motorist on Interstate 35 might have stopped in Waco Sunday for lunch at a bar-and-grill or the Tex-Mex restaurant next door and wound up at a gangland firefight with police.

Like in a scene from some international newscast, restaurant patrons were locked down next door while police and gangs exchanged gunfire.

Waco police were well-prepared and 18 officers were already on the scene conducting surveillance.

But that raises more questions.

If police and state troopers feared a violent showdown with a rival gang at what is described as a regularly scheduled Central Texas meeting of affiliated biker groups, why not intervene sooner or warn innocent diners?

More questions are deservedly directed at the franchise owner and also at the parent company of Twin Peaks Restaurants, Addison-based Front Burner Restaurants.

Police say they had grown frustrated with the local franchise owner and had notified the parent company of risks from criminal gang activity. (Front Burner since has revoked the owner’s franchise, and state liquor officers have closed the location for a one-week investigation.)

Motorcycles have become a popular pursuit for thousands of Texans, as proven by the number of bikers on the road each weekend. There is no reason to broadly suspect anyone in biker attire, but business owners must be vigilant against violent behavior and criminal activity.