Musician Hurt in Panhandler Attack Outside Show
Assault highlights worsening criminality in the live music district
By Kevin Curtin,
11:25AM, Mon. Nov. 12, 2018
After performing at Beerland last Monday, Nov. 4, Thunderstars bassist Omar Richardson planned on taking a rideshare home. Instead, he was driven away in an ambulance following an attack by a panhandler.
In an email to “Playback,” Erik Kang, the group’s guitarist, explained that Richardson and Thunderstars drummer Sven Bednarski-Bjorkman were walking to meet their Lyft driver. Near the alley between Beerland and the vacant Sidewinder building on the 700 block of Red River, a stranger approached them asking for money.
“He continued to ask for things and to engage them in conversation,” writes Kang. “Omar felt uneasy about the amount of questions/things he was asking for, and got into a verbal exchange with the stranger. He turned towards Sven to say something and the stranger hit him.”
“Omar was knocked out and hit his head on the pavement,” continues Kang. “He suffered a concussion and abrasions on his head. Days later, he was still feeling the effects of the assault and had to go back to the ER.”
The Beerland staff witnessed the attack and called 911. Austin Police arrived and arrested the assailant. A Public Information Officer for APD confirmed that a 38-year-old man named Ray Brown was arrested for Assault With Injury. “Playback” has filed a public records request for the police report, which hasn’t been fulfilled at this time.
The incident caused last Monday’s show, which also featured Youth & Canvas, Cheeky Orange, and Canadian act Autopilot, to end abruptly. Kang says he’s thankful to the venue’s staff for quickly taking action and to the other bands who helped attend to Richardson after his injury. Asked if he and his bandmates now feel unsafe on Red River, Kang echoed many local musicians and club personnel working in the area: “We always try to be cautious when out late and downtown. I’m not sure if it makes us feel any more unsafe, but it’s a reminder that trying to reason with someone who is unstable is seldom successful.”
In the days before the assault, Beerland owner Richard Lynn spoke out on social media about the worsening criminal climate in the famed music district. He says he regularly witnesses open drug dealing, violence, and increasingly aggressive panhandling in the area around his business. He’s also had to deal with street people reaching over Beerland’s patio fence trying to steal beer or purses as well as attacking the venue’s workers.
“My employees have seen people’s heads getting beat into curbs and the police don’t even stop,” says Lynn, a frequenter of Downtown venues since 1994, who adds that crime in the area is worse than ever these last two months. “This is not normal, not acceptable. We can’t just say, ‘This is how it is now.’”
In particular, he’s disturbed about the alley next to Beerland, which a 2001 Chronicle report characterized as the “favorite smoking spot” for local crackheads and which has only increased as a hotbed of vice and loitering that Red River stakeholders have begged police and city representatives to clean up. Lynn says the poorly lit plot, which extends next to the former Sidewinder building and behind the Empire Control Room & Garage, has gotten more treacherous since Sidewinder closed in May.
“The alley has been taken away from the city and the police,” says Lynn. “It’s criminals and the homeless who own that alley. A group of city employees from various departments told me they’ve been working on that alley – possibly building a fence – since 2013, and nothing’s been accomplished.”
Lynn went to the city proposing that the alley be filled with decking and food trucks, but he was rebuffed because he doesn’t own the property. Last week, he met with the Downtown district representative from APD, who told him there weren’t enough resources to effectively police that alley – the same reasoning an APD assistant police chief gave “Playback” in last year’s in-depth report on the same issue.
“That’s not acceptable. If they don’t have enough resources, they need to demand it from City Council because this is a crisis,” says Lynn. “My message to everyone is the same: ‘Do your job.’ If results matter, the police, City Council, and the mayor have all failed because this is worse than ever and there is no plan to make it better.”
Lynn says he’s also part of the problem for not having spoken up on this issue sooner. Cody Cowan, the longtime Mohawk manager who is now Executive Director of the Red River Cultural District, says Omar Richardson’s assault is “completely unacceptable.”
“We’re glad that he’s fast recovering, and we’re angry,” says Cowan. “The alley he was attacked from is a public nuisance and a well-known haven for sex trade and drug deals. It is a clear and present danger for artists, guests, and the homeless downtown.
“[We’ve] been working with the city to close the alley for well over two years. The safety of our guests, workers, homeless, and visitors is priority number one. It’s time for action, not words.
“Close the alley now.”