Miles Eblen stepped outside The Thirsty Parrot in Columbia’s Five Points with a friend for a smoke at 10 p.m. Saturday when a pair of police officers approached and asked them the move along or get cited for loitering.
“What am I supposed to think?” the University of South Carolina Russian major said. “I never heard this before. It’s sometimes legal and it’s sometimes illegal?”
As promised by Columbia’s mayor and police chief during the week, officers blanketed Five Points on Saturday night to quell concerns about recent violence, mob assaults and gunfire.
Police, usually in groups of two or three, stood on street corners. Cruisers were stationed on the outskirts of the area to catch speeders and other traffic violators, including a middle-aged man. At one point, a police van was parked next to the Five Points fountain.
Bar operators said business was down even for a USC road football game. They placed some blame on a day of festivals in town, but the attention from violence last Saturday thinned the crowd. A sign outside a bar called Pinch read: “We are not the problem.”
“There are lots and lots of cops out,” said Jonny Pearson, who has worked at Bar None on Harden Street for six years. “People see the blue lights and won’t come in. All the people having to go outside to smoke is half the problem. That’s where some of the fights start.”
Columbia City Councilman Moe Baddourah, making his first late night visit to Five Points in five years on Saturday, said he understands bar owners might be concerned about lost sales, but they will come back.
“With more blue lights, we can reassure everybody that the area is safe,” said Baddourah, whose district includes Five Points. “The bad boys will not want to be here.”
Saturday should give revelers an idea of what to expect from police in the future.
Huge crowds are expected next week when the Gamecocks face rival Georgia in Columbia at 7 p.m.
“We’re trying to see what works,” Baddourah said.