‘a community strategy’

Columbia community addresses Five Points issues

ccope@thestate.comOctober 16, 2013 

  • A celebrity tweet, ‘y’all’

    Country singer Hunter Hayes spoke with Five Points shooting victim Martha Childress on Wednesday, after her friends drew the young woman’s situation to his attention.

    The 18-year-old USC freshman, who was shot early Sunday morning while waiting for a cab in Five Points, had attended Hayes’ concert at the S.C. State Fair Saturday evening.

    Hayes’ publicists in Nashville called The State newspaper on Tuesday to verify that Childress had attended the concert. Earlier Tuesday, friends of Childress began a Twitter campaign to get the singer to call her in the hospital.

    The publicists then contacted Childress’ family to arrange for the call.

    She tweeted Wednesday afternoon: ‘Y’all @HunterHayes just called me!!! I seriously have the most amazing family, friends and support group that anyone could ask for.”

    Betsey Guzior

Five Points business owners, residents, students and others from across Columbia spent about two hours Wednesday evening voicing their opinions on what should be done in Five Points to address violent crime.

A few of the points raised by some of the nearly 300 in attendance included:

• Being more strict on loitering

• Legislative action on reforming bond laws

• Revitalizing nearby neighborhoods

• Turning Five Points into a pedestrian area at night.

Many speakers began their comments expressing sympathy for Martha Childress, the 18-year-old USC student who was hit by a random bullet early Sunday morning while waiting by the Five Points fountain for a cab.

Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin said the purpose of the meeting was to start a dialogue. The community has endured far too many tragedies, he said.

Alex Waelde, the founder of the Twitter account Drinking Ticket, which alerts students to police activity, aggregated more than 200 student responses on the issue through social media.

The students emphasized loitering needs to be cut out.

“We don’t need to be walking through people,” Waelde said. Large groups of people don’t need to be standing around, doing nothing, he said.

There also should be a districtwide dress code, he said. Some students also believe in an aggressive search-and-frisk approach, he said. In addition, the students believe law enforcement needs to cooperate and accept help from everybody willing to give it.

Tim Smith, president of the Five Points Association, was the last of the community speakers. He said he would like to see cooperation from the State Law Enforcement Division, Richland County Sheriff’s Department, city officials and more.

Benjamin ended the meeting by saying the opinions and thoughts would be synthesized. He pointed out that some of the issues would require policy changes at the city level and at the state level.

Interim Police Chief Ruben Santiago said later that he took copious notes and that a lot of ideas were strategies similar to plans he is considering. Those ideas included closing off the streets and addressing loitering.

He said loitering poses challenges for law enforcement because officers have to warn people first.

Some residents, including mayoral candidate Moe Baddourah, suggested using police dogs.

But Santiago said that some of the dogs are not friendly and that they might not be the best tool for the environment.

Santiago also said other issues are not confined to law enforcement, such as adding more lighting in the area.

“We need collaboration,” Santiago said. “It can’t just be a law enforcement strategy. It has to be a community strategy.”

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