COLUMBIA, SC — After two weekends of shootings in Five Points, Columbia Police Chief Randy Scott has called out one bar as the root of the problem.
Since September, four shootings have been reported on the 800 block of Harden Street, just off Greene Street, where The Library is located. But Justin Kershner, The Librarys owner, denies that his customers or activities inside his bar are responsible for shootings on the street.
I dont feel like Im the problem, Kershner said. Ill help with the solution.
Scotts singling out of one particular business is the latest development in the ongoing search for answers to violence in Five Points. Scott named The Library as a problem during a Monday press conference held in the wake of consecutive weekend shootings in the citys popular entertainment district.
Scott and Kershner plan to meet on Monday to talk about the clubs reputation. The chief said he is not ready to start the civil process to close The Library, but he wants to issue a face-to-face warning.
I dont want to close anyone down, Scott said. I will start closing you down when you dont comply and after you show me you dont care.
Earlier this week, Scott told reporters that more than 60 incidents have taken place at or near the bar since 2009. The State newspaper requested a full report on the types and dates of incidents at the bar, but Scott said he was having it prepared for his Monday meeting and did not want to release it to the media beforehand.
Meanwhile, other business owners in Five Points are growing frustrated with the ongoing violence despite Scotts insistence that the area is safe.
Five Points is one of the most high-profile areas in Columbia. For decades, it has been the place to go for college students and other young people looking to drink and have a good time.
Entertainment districts always have brought their share of challenges for police. Its what happens when hundreds, perhaps thousands of people, gather in one place to drink alcohol.
But, The gunfire. Thats new stuff, said Joe Wilson, who has owned bars in Five Points for 14 years. We need to start finding answers to the problem. Waiting around is going to get some innocent shot.
Wilson, who owns Delaneys, Speakeasy and The Saloon, said its convenient to point to one bar as the source of the problem. While he agrees that some of The Librarys clientele are causing problems, he does not believe that is the sole reason violence has picked up.
He blames a combination of issues:
• The smoking ban that caused people to stand outside and loiter on the sidewalks.
The rise of social media, which spreads the word about popular places and violence when it happens.
• Gang members who have followed the young African-American college students, who started coming to Five Points in the past few years.
Scott agreed that gangs are frequenting Five Points. But he did not explain his departments plans to address their presence.
Efforts to reach representatives from the Five Points Association were unsuccessful.
Debbie McDaniel, a Five Points businesswoman she owns three shops there who has worked in the district since 1972, said The Library does shoulder some responsibility for recent violence.
The problem is the people hanging out in front, she said. They have no intention of going in.
Early Sunday morning, an 18-year-old was charged with two counts of attempted murder after he shot at a Columbia police officer and the man he was arresting in front of The Library. Police said the suspect, Shaquan Cwiklinski, ran out of the bar, got a gun and ran back to shoot.
However, Kershner said he reviewed security footage from inside the bar and did not see Cwiklinski inside. He said his doormen are instructed to deny entry to anyone younger than 21. Sometimes fake IDs slip by undetected so it would be possible for the 18-year-old to have been inside.
If someone is willing to shoot at police, hes not going to be worried about getting caught with a fake ID, Kershner said.
Kershner said he opened The Library in 2009 with two business partners. He said he has 24 years of experience running bars and nightclubs in Columbia. Two years ago, he bought out his partners, and today The Library is his sole business.
Inside the club, patrons have used colored chalk to write slogans and catchy sayings on the wooden walls. Typical posters and neon signs advertising beer and liquor hang on the walls and from the ceilings. There is a pool table. On most nights, DJs spin dance music and sometimes a live act performs on the clubs stage.
Kershner said he employs six bouncers and he also works every night the bar is open, which are Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. From time to time, they eject people for getting out of control. But in four years, they have had only one brawl that led to several people being kicked out at once. That happened two weeks ago, he said.
Kershner recently removed picnic tables and planters from the sidewalk after city officials asked him to, he said.
The Library has a dress code and does not allow its customers to take alcohol outside if they want to smoke a cigarette, he said.
For the first few years, the bar was typical for Five Points, attracting a mostly white college crowd. But over the summer, the demographic inside The Library changed when young black people started hanging out there.
When asked what led to the change in clientele, Kershner replied, Were a wide open dance club, and Im not racist.
He went on to say, I didnt get blamed two years ago when there was violence, but I didnt run an African-American club then. Now, Im getting blamed because I primarily have a black club.
Indeed, the race issue repeatedly comes up in private conversations and on social media when Five Points violence is discussed.
Scott agreed it is not fair to blame Five Points problems on race, nor is he picking on The Library because black people go there.
Demographically, I dont care whether a club is black or white, Scott said.
Scott points to a Saturday night in October as a prime illustration of what goes on at The Library.
The night USC beat Georgia in football, more than 10,000 showed up in the entertainment district. Police closed The Library shortly after 1 a.m. because it had more than twice the number of people allowed inside. That night, a fire marshal and police officers reported they could smell marijuana inside although they never charged anyone for having it.
We cant continue to let them operate their business that way, Scott said. Someone is going to get killed.