As Paige Sharkey was walking home from a night out at a Five Points bar last weekend, shots rang out on Harden Street.
As hundreds of people fled down Harden, she felt uneasy about walking the two blocks to her Greene Street apartment.
So the 22-year-old USC senior hailed a cab and paid $1 for the ride home.
I didnt feel safe, Sharkey said. Ive never felt that way.
That is the feeling city police, elected officials and Five Points merchants want to avoid.
But its the feeling some have expressed, along with fear and anger, following a shooting and two fights that occurred within a two-hour window early the morning of Sept. 23. The outrage was fanned by a video clip of one of the fights, showing a bloodied young man in the aftermath.
The fallout was fast and widespread, as people began pointing fingers at who is to blame for the violent actions in the one of the citys most popular entertainment districts.
City officials pledged a crackdown, and the police chief will be offering some plans to City Council Tuesday.
Still, some question whether police are focusing their efforts on the right group of people.
The loudest outcry came from students and bar owners, who accuse the Columbia Police Department of busting college students for petty offenses and ignoring those who commit violent crimes. In conversations on social media sites, street corners and in bars and restaurants, people blamed police for failing in their tactics.
Police Chief Randy Scott said critics are wrong when they say his departments priorities in Five Points are misguided.
He and his officers will not tolerate people who come to Five Points to commit robberies, break into cars and start fights, he said. Efforts constantly are being taken to stop assaults, thefts and shootings.
But that doesnt mean because there is violence were not going to pay attention to underage drinking, Scott said. Its still a crime.
He and other city officials point toward statistics that show that crime has dropped in the area.
Columbia Police Department records show that as of Sept. 12, 728 crimes were reported in Five Points this year. Thats down 256 crimes, or 26 percent, from the same period in 2011.
However, violent crime is up 22 percent in the first 8½ months of this year when compared with the same period last year, police statistics show.
But last weekends shooting and fights did little to bolster arguments that crime is down. One person from each fight was treated at a hospital. Arrests have been made in connection with one fight captured on a video camera. No injuries were reported in the shooting.
In the wake of the shooting and fights, Sharkey and her roommate, Liz McIntyre, created a Facebook page, Fight Back for Five Points. By late last week, it had more than 6,000 members who are posting comments and suggestions.
The women said the perception exists among college students that police are picking on them. They believe that violence is a bigger problem in Five Points than when they arrived on campus four years ago.
I dont want to come across like were fighting with police, McIntyre said, but added, the violence is still the problem.
Some accusations against the police have been more inflammatory.
Scott Linaberry, a former president of the Five Points Association, said everyone is afraid to openly accuse the police of picking on white college students while letting young black residents get away with crimes. Earlier this month, Linaberry sold two popular bars on Harden Street but still owns property in the neighborhood and lives in the nearby Shandon neighborhood.
After 12 years on the associations board of directors, he said he resigned last week because he wanted to speak out but did not want his words to reflect the opinion of the entire board or its executive director, Merritt McHaffie.
Its OK to harass white college students, but its not OK to harass the black kids on the street corners, Linaberry said. Its got to be said.
Those accusations received a strong rejection from Scott and Mayor Steve Benjamin.
We dont harass kids, Scott said. Whether its white or black, male or female, it doesnt matter. The Columbia Police Department fully enforces the law, regardless of race, in and around Five Points.
Leaders in the citys black community see the situation from a different viewpoint.
I dont see these kinds of press conferences in other neighborhoods when children are hurt or kidnapped or killed, said Lonnie Randolph, president of the S.C. NAACP.
The message being sent is the value of a student at one particular school is far more valuable than a student from another school, Randolph said.
Adding to those tensions are the seven neighborhoods that ring Five Points whose leaders are increasingly complaining about rowdy college students causing trouble as they leave the area late at night.
Durham Carter, president of the Martin Luther King neighborhood, said he has even awakened to find students passed out in his front lawn. Its especially bad during home USC football games, he said.
Before and after the last two games, we have had nothing but before-game partying and after-game partying and drinking, Carter said.
He worries that an increase in police presence in Five Points will pull law enforcement out of the neighborhoods.
Youve got to go through these neighborhoods to get to Five Points, he said.
Others believe the police are doing all that they can, and there is only so much they can do to weed out the bad elements.
Ben Fleming, an employee of Pops N.Y. Pizza on Harden Street, was cooking pizzas Sept. 23 when a fight broke out in front of the restaurant. Video footage shows Pops front window and awning, but Fleming said the fight did not start inside the pizza place or Beys, a next-door bar that shares the same ownership.
Instead, it started down the block and moved along the sidewalk until punches were exchanged, Fleming said.
Its stupid people doing stupid things, Fleming said. The police are doing everything they can. They cant be everywhere every second of the day.
Two Benedict College students have been charged in the fight, and a third is being sought.
On Thursday, two USC students were arrested, one for illegally carrying a loaded gun, the other in a hit-and-run of an occupied car; she was also charged with possession of beer by a minor, driving with an open container of alcohol and possession of marijuana and another controlled substance, hallucinogenic mushrooms.
Don McCallister, owner of Loose Lucys store, said a random bar fight on a Saturday night is not all that unusual.
Five Points is a pretty safe place for an urban neighborhood like this, McCallister said. As my grandfather said, Nothing good happens after midnight. Maybe theres some wisdom in that.
If you are drinking heavy late at night in public, you are putting yourself at risk, McCallister said. You can only have a reasonable expectation for keeping yourself safe. Theres only so much that police, the neighborhood association and the business owners can do.
But during two news conferences last week, police and city officials vowed to do more.
Benjamin pledged to make violent offenses in Five Points the top priority, targeting gangs and drugs as well as bar owners serving underage drinkers.
Scott is expected to present a plan Tuesday to City Council on how the department plans to continue patrolling the area. Already, the police presence in Five Points will be doubled, to roughly 40 officers, following Saturdays USC home game against Georgia.
Other ideas being discussed include barricades at entry points into Five Points, increasing the number of police dogs and cracking down on loitering.
Those steps would be in addition to existing measures: the areas 16-and-under teen curfew, the installation of dozens of video cameras and the requirement that bars meet certain training, staffing and safety requirements to stay open past 2 a.m.
Benjamin assured the public that police are not ignoring violent criminals. He pledged that the police presence in Five Points would be strong, including assigning members of the departments gang unit to the area.
Expect to see our gang task force focused like a laser on the small number of violent offenders, Benjamin said.
While police have promised increased enforcement, they said they will not overlook the underage drinking and overconsumption that takes place in the area.
You and I know that at night everything changes, Benjamin said of Five Points. It becomes a festival environment and the police tactics change.
At its busiest times now, more than 30,000 people can pack into the area, far more than were once attracted there and some from neighboring counties.
Police are outnumbered by several hundred to one, Benjamin said.
If you add binge drinking to the equation, it can lead to a very challenging situation, he said.
Experienced law enforcement officers know that if you let small crimes go, then bigger problems move in, said Florence McCants, a spokeswoman for the S.C. Criminal Justice Academy where police tactics are taught to the states officers.
If you allow underage people to drink and allow of-age people to drink too much, predators are invited in, McCants said.
Once youve been in law enforcement long enough you realize thats what you need to do, she said of enforcing the drinking laws.
Still, police and politicians say while focusing on crime in Five Points is a priority, it cannot be at the neglect of other areas of the city, including several neighborhoods that can legitimately say they have more serious crime problems.
The same weekend Five Points saw one shooting, there were two random shootings reported in north Columbia.
Whats gotten lost in all of this is I am not the police chief of Five Points, Scott said last week. Im police chief for the entire city of Columbia.
Reach Phillips at (803) 771-8307.