SOME IN OUR community are trying to frame the crime and violence problems in Five Points in terms of race.
Scott Linaberry, a former president of the Five Points Association, says police harass white college students while letting young black residents get away with crimes, a notion rejected by Columbia Police Chief Randy Scott.
Some white readers have called and written essentially suggesting that if we would just lock up the black kids who go to Five Points and cause trouble, all will be well. “How many white gangs are causing trouble down there in Five Points?” one caller asked.
As I’ve written many times, far too many young African-Americans, boys in particular, commit crime in general; and they do so at an alarming rate. And, yes, they have proven to be part of the problem in Five Points. The vicious beating of 18-year-old Carter Strange in June 2011 as well as a recent fight involved groups of young black boys.
But to try to pin all of Five Points’ problems on black kids — and, by extension an entire race of people — is not only naive and insensitive, to put it nicely, but it’s also wrong.
Such approaches are divisive and unproductive. Even if a black person never set foot in Five Points again, it would still have a severe crime problem. The fact is that any entertainment district congregated by drinking establishments and touting a big-time party atmosphere invites a certain level of crime and lawlessness. Five Points’ problems are myriad: youth violence, gang activity, under-age drinking, irresponsible drinking, a glut of fake IDs, assaults, DUIs, traffic violations, the list goes on.
Five Points leaders understandably look to city officials and police to help solve these problems, but some of this might also be, for better or worse, a sign of growing pains. The vibrant, growing Five Points crowd is as diverse — and probably as young — as it has ever been. What’s being done, or should be done, to help foster harmony as well as manage a hormone-driven, youthful and — for many — drunken crowd of party people?
It hasn’t always been this way.
When I was young, black folks didn’t spend much time there. I would travel with my mom to Five Points to shop. With the cold stares and constant gaze as if you’re going to steal something, it wasn’t always the most pleasant experience for people of color; we were tolerated, at best. Even as times and social rules changed, the village was still pretty much frequented only by whites.
But then Five Points itself began to really change, making a steady transformation from a place where folks did some serious shopping to a district dominated by bars and restaurants that stake their existence on selling adult beverages. Still, few African-Americans made it a regular hangout; the reasons varied from feeling uncomfortable or unwelcome to being turned off by the choice of music and culture.
Over the years, as people became more accepting of one another — including their music — and as college students and young adults adopted Five Points, the crowd became younger and more diverse. While USC’s diverse student body makes up much of the college crowd, Allen University and Benedict College students also patronize Five Points. Fact is, young people from miles around and nearby counties flock to Five Points as well.
That’s a relatively new phenomenon. There was a time, about five years ago, when I would see only a few people who looked like college students drift across Gervais Street from the direction of Benedict and Allen into Five Points. Today, there is a continuous stream of them making that trek to eat, shop and, presumably, enjoy a night out. But others have begun to frequent the area as well, including teens who don’t belong where adult activity is prevalent.
No doubt, the crowd spends lots of money at the local businesses. But it hasn’t come without problems. While Five Points is an inviting place to go shop and eat during the day, at night, particularly late night — or should I say early morning — the crowd swells exponentially, the alcohol flows and all sorts of people assemble together, not all with good intentions. At times, that becomes a dangerous cocktail, leading to all sorts of crime and lawlessness.
Yes, something must be done.
But there is a more productive way to address the problems than by dividing this community along racial lines, particularly since it’s pretty clear that our young people seem intent on going to Five Points.
The adults must find a way to keep them safe, and to deal with the bad actors. It starts with pulling the community together to support the efforts of city and Five Points leaders and the police. This isn’t a race problem; it’s a community problem that demands a unified response from not only the police but from college and high school officials and parents and community organizations.
City officials have wasted little time responding to Five Points’ demand for help. They’ve increased patrols. They’ve pledge to crack down on DUIs and gangs and other ills. They’ve pledged to do this and pledged to do that. And justifiably so; this is serious.
But what are residents in black neighborhoods where gangs are active and violence erupts regularly to think when their communities haven’t gotten near the attention Five Points is getting? When young black boys — or whomever — run roughshod through their neighborhoods, they get one level of response. When the same or similar kids commit crimes in Five Points, all of a sudden it’s a crisis of mammoth proportions and gets immediate, forceful attention.
Should residents in those other neighborhoods also frame their circumstances in terms of race? Should they surmise that the city jumps through hoops for an area whose business owners and patrons are mostly white — although more diverse today than it historically has been — but aren’t as quick to respond similarly to crime in black neighborhoods?
Do we really want to go down that road?
Reach Mr. Bolton at (803) 771-8631 or firstname.lastname@example.org.