Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Tuesday that last week’s seemingly random knife attacks by a homeless man at an Austin shopping plaza magnified a “sense of lawlessness” in the liberal state capital city, whose mayor has accused the governor of demonizing people living on the streets.
Since the attacks Friday, which included the fatal stabbing of a restaurant kitchen manager, Abbott has sought to draw a link to relaxed camping ordinances that have made homelessness more visible in one of the nation’s fastest-growing cities. His remarks came after Austin Mayor Steve Adler accused the governor of characterizing homeless people as criminals.
“What Austin has done over the past half year is to perpetuate a sense of lawlessness in this city about the homeless,” Abbott told reporters in the Texas Capitol. He went on to call on the city to step up enforcement, “So that nobody else is going to lose their life because of these modified rules that have been adopted by the city of Austin.”
Austin has spent years grappling with skyrocketing housing costs and affordability, and Abbott’s scolding of the liberal capital comes as President Donald Trump also has railed against California’s handling of its own homeless crisis.
Abbott has tweeted videos that he calls evidence of the homeless threatening public safety in Texas’ capital city, and urged his nearly 330,000 followers to share more. He ordered makeshift camps under Austin bridges cleared. And in November, Abbott converted 5 acres of state land on the outskirts of downtown into a homeless encampment, a move that national advocates for the homeless called potentially unprecedented by a governor.
On Monday, Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said 27-year-old Dylan Woodburn died at a hospital Friday night, after carrying out the attacks along a busy downtown avenue of restaurants and apartments just south of the Texas Capitol. Authorities and witnesses have said the attacks ended after Woodburn jumped off the roof of Freebirds World Burrito, where authorities say two employees were stabbed.
Adler said after the attack that there was no evidence suggesting the new city ordinances had increased crime. Abbott said Tuesday there had been “an escalation of physical attacks” in the wake of the new Austin ordinances, and Abbott spokesman John Wittman later sent an email of recent news reports of crimes involving homeless persons.
In October, Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said there had been 18% increase in violent crime in downtown Austin the previous 10 months, but stressed that he did not know whether people who are homeless played a role.
“His suggestion that people experiencing homelessness are criminals is not true. It’s wrong,” Adler said Friday. “It’s kind of like saying all immigrants are rapists. It’s harmful to a community when we demonize people like that.”
Manley said the shopping plaza attack — the city’s first homicide of 2020 — began when police were called to a coffee shop on a report of a man standing outside with a large rock and threatening people.
When an officer arrived, two people were holding down the suspect. But as the officer prepared to detain Woodburn, Manley said, the officer’s duty belt came undone and Woodburn broke free. In the chaos, Woodburn ran into the nearby Freebirds World Burrito, took a knife from the restaurant and fatally stabbed the restaurant’s kitchen manager, 34-year-old Johnathan Aguilar, as well as a second employee, Manley said.
The police chief said Monday an internal investigation was underway.