USC community fed up with Five Points crime

ccope@thestate.com dhinshaw@thestate.comOctober 15, 2013 

  • What they’re saying Some USC students talk Tuesday about Five Points.

    Benjamin Ghent, a senior nursing student from Lancaster, does not go to Five Points often.

    He said it is not a good place to go because of crime.

    “The best way to stay out of trouble is to stay away from the spots that it happens,” Ghent said.

    Bradford Tshefu is a junior from Easley who goes down to Five Points almost every Thursday.

    “I’m not worried to go,” Tshefu said. “I wish it was a little safer.”

    Allaina Johnson, a senior psychology student from Irmo, said she has been to Five Points plenty of times. She said the incident Saturday has made her more cautious.

    “I might just move down to the Vista,” Johnson said.

    Caitlyn Leary, a junior visual communications student from Virginia, is taking a break from Five Points.

    “I probably won’t go back until we see they are trying to do something different,” Leary said.

Caitlyn Leary caught a cab by the Five Points fountain around 2 a.m. Sunday, just before an 18-year-old student was shot and paralyzed in a random crime that has left everyone feeling vulnerable.

Because of the incident, Leary is making a conscious effort not to go down to Five Points at night until police, USC and students work together to make changes, she said.

“If we don’t change, and students don’t stop going, then nothing is going to happen,” said Leary, a USC junior from Virginia.

As University of South Carolina students, alumni and parents were reeling Tuesday from the weekend tragedy, they said they’ve had enough of guns and violent crime in the popular college district. They want:

• University president Harris Pastides and USC police to exert their influence to make students safe off-campus, in Five Points .

• City police and the sheriff’s gang unit to join with the mayor and solicitor to take the village back from criminals.

If nothing changes, they said, USC’s enrollment and small businesses in Five Points will suffer.

“If we don’t feel like our kids are safe, they’re not coming here. End of story,” said Paul Hartley, whose 16-year-old twins will be looking at colleges a year from now.

Click here to read The State's coverage of Five Points' crime.

Hartley, who works in commercial real estate in Columbia, has lived near Five Points for 30 years. He said the violent crime has gotten out of control in the past two years.

Hartley said the shooting at the Five Points fountain opened his eyes: “This could’ve been my two.”

“It’s going to take a greater effort than what’s going on right now,” he said. “It’s not working, and it seems to be getting worse at a pretty alarming rate.”

But part of the college experience is going downtown and into the city, said USC junior Chelsea Davis, who just turned 21.

She said she’s been going to Five Points once or twice a week recently, but that may change.

“It’s probably going to take me a while to come to terms with going down there,” Davis said.

John Swanson, Class of 2010, has a little brother at USC. His sister graduated from USC, too.

They and their parents come back for football games, and he has fond memories of his years here.

“Since I’ve graduated, it’s really changed,” Swanson said. “Seems like there’s a lot of questionable people wandering around, not students.”

He might talk his friends into meeting at the porch at the Salty Nut Cafe for a couple of beers, but once the sun goes down, they’re ready to leave for the Vista. “It sucks,” he said.

“I don’t understand how city leaders let it get to this point.” he said.

“I’m dismayed. I’m heartbroken.”

Swanson said the campus has gotten more beautiful each year. “But this recent violence is really overshadowing all the progress that the university and the city have made.”

Greenville parent Dale McKinney said police officers have the wrong marching orders, busting college kids for underage drinking amid a culture of gun violence.

“Is law enforcement being used to protect and serve? Or is law enforcement being used to generate revenue for the city of Columbia?” he asked.

McKinney said it’s time for some tough conversations about crime in Columbia. “It’s not a race issue, it’s a culture issue.”

One of the comments he saw posted on a Gamecock message board suggested that Columbia follow the lead of another college town that converts a bar and restaurant district into a pedestrian mall – with metal detectors – at night. He wondered if that would work in Five Points.

Willie Washington, father of a freshman at USC, suggested getting all the stakeholders, including the leaders of Benedict College and Allen University, to the table to develop a strategy for safety in Five Points.

“We all have students going down there,” he said, “especially in that certain block.”

About a year ago, Carmen Plemmons of Columbia said, both her daughters decided on their own not to go to Five Points anymore.

“Our city, our college – they need to help find young adults a place where they can go and enjoy themselves that is safe,” Plemmons said. “That is our responsibility, and we have failed them.”

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