Mural of ‘Homeless Rick’ leads to veiled Free Speech threats by Downtown Improvement District?

"Homeless Rick"-- (1961-2015) R.I.P.


Mural of ‘Homeless Rick’ leads to veiled Free Speech threats by Downtown Improvement District?

“A Commentary by Carmen Sabatino”

Freedom of Speech    On January 6th, 2015, The Modesto Bee’s, Kevin Valine reported  ‘Downtown mural remembers homeless man’  with highlights of ‘Painter hopes artwork sparks community conversation’ and ‘Mural lets public see homeless through portrait of one person.”

Defense attorney Martin Baker, hand painted a mural of a well-known homeless man Mr. Rick Hernstedt, a.k.a. ‘Homeless Rick’ on the exterior wall of a new downtown restaurant, Ralston’s Goat.  Valine reported it was Baker’s hopes it would create “community conversation about the homeless and homelessness.”

Under the category of being careful what you hope for, The Back Story continues.

To the dismay of Ralston’s Goat’s owners, veiled threats of possible ruination of their business if it were not taken down were delivered from the Downtown Improvement District (DID)*.

In my opinion, any Modestonians that value Freedom of Speech should shiver while being outraged at the following directives documented in the DID Minutes of their meeting of January 20th, 2016 under MATTERS TOO LATE FOR THE AGENDA**:

“The Mural on the building at 10th and J Streets was brought up, and some people are not happy with the poster child being Ricky, one of our regular downtown homeless, Ricky would be mean and nasty sometimes and would take people’s food off their plates when they were eating on the patios of our downtown restaurants.

Staff will speak with the owners of Ralston’s Goat to let them know that this unhappiness could affect their business.  Customers might choose to dine elsewhere.”

      BSN sought comment from DID but was unable to speak to any of the Board Members concerning the statement in the DID Minutes.

BSN was informed by a staff member that “She was just doing what she was told” by putting the statement in the Minutes.

"Homeless Rick"--R.I.P. (Photo Courtesy of Marty Carlson)
“Homeless Rick Hernstedt”(1961-2015) R.I.P.

NOTICE:  In fulfillment of The Back Story News’ commitment to share with The Modesto Bee information important to the community of veiled threats impinging upon all Modestonians Freedom of Speech (generated by the story by Valine) this article and Minutes of the DID meeting have been provided to the Modesto Bee’s, Mr. Ken Riddick-Publisher-President, Joe Kieta-Senior Editor, Mike Dunbar-Opinion Editor and reporter Kevin Valine for consideration of a follow up story.  (See Letter from BSN Publisher to The Modesto Bee Publisher)



*ADDITIONAL INFORMATION ABOUT DID:  To understand what the DID is, and their role in the community, you may go to their website under: “What is The Downtown Improvement District”

**DID BOARD MEMBERS PRESENT AT JANUARY 20, 2016:  David Boring, Susie Fagundes, Steve Rank, Bart Barringer, Tammy Maisetti, Tom Slater, and Don Phillips.  BOARD MEMBERS ABSENT:  Brad Morad, Norma Reed.



  1. I’m sorry that a homeless person with mental health issues upsets privileged diners. I’m sorry you have to think about people you can usually avert your eyes from and pretend aren’t there. I’m sorry his lack of access to quality mental healthcare left him dead in the middle of a dirty Modesto street and you wouldn’t have otherwise noticed. Just another dead tweaker, right, Modesto?

  2. As someone who frequents downtown, I have to say I never knew Rick to be mean and take food. For the most part, I saw him keep to himself. Anyone who was uncomfortable with Rick most likely was someone who didn’t spend much time downtown. The mural, like all art work, is supposed to promote feelings. That’s what good and passionate art does. Even negative feelings. The point is, if you want real change then get over yourselves and start helping the actual homeless community. Lord knows my friends and I have fed them and sat down to conversations with them more times than any “city personnel” has. The fact that people are threatening to try and shut this business down for a mural! A mural! Not even things like “their food, how they run a business” is something you people should be ashamed of yourselves for. And for those of us who do nothing… We should be ashamed too. When someone tells me they want to see art removed because they don’t like what it represents and then they misinterpret that representation? I get so incredibly livid. Wake up people and start being more aware of who is being voted in to represent you as a city. Politics start small. This whole situation angers me. Martin does such fantastic work. Why is no one talking about that? Why is no one talking about helping our homeless community? This mural is more than that people, you let them take our right to free speech….who are we kidding? It pretty much already gone. Guess it’s time to get off our butts and yell a little louder.

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