The University of South Carolina is expected to start a new shuttle service from the Five Points entertainment district to its campus this weekend after a freshman was paralyzed by a stray bullet last week.
The school will announce details Thursday, administrators said – the same day as a free concert on campus to show support for shooting victim 18-year-old Martha Childress and increased safety in Five Points.
USC’s Greek fraternity and sorority leaders, who organized the concert, said the campus event is not a protest against the bar-heavy entertainment hotspot, which has been the location of several high-profile crimes in recent years.
“This has nothing to do with boycotting or emptying Five Points,” said Jamie Gardner, president of USC’s Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority and one of the concert organizers. “We want the focus to be on seeing actual change. We want to spark the whole movement.”
Students at the concert can place their safety ideas in a suggestion box and donate to help pay for Childress’ medical care. Childress, a Greenville native who was paralyzed from the waist down, traveled to an Atlanta rehabilitation center for treatment this week.
USC president Harris Pastides said after the shooting that Five Points was no longer safe after midnight.
Among Pastides’ suggestions after the shooting was holding more campus events as an alternative to students going to Five Points. The head of a Five Points merchants group said she does not consider more activities on campus an economic threat to the entertainment district.
“We’re not competing against each other,” said Amy Beth Franks, director of the Five Points Association.
Of Pastides’ remark about Five Points’ lack of safety after midnight, Franks said: “We’re respectful of his opinion. This is not something that’s going to get fixed overnight.”
Merchants rejected Pastides’ recommendations for a mandatory 2 a.m. bar closing and making the area a pedestrian-only zone on weekend nights. The Five Points Association’s board will not say why it rejected those ideas until members have a chance to speak with city officials, Franks said.
The invitation to the USC concert, dubbed “Not So Thirsty Thursday,” includes a request that police enforce loitering laws in Five Points. It also includes the email address of Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin.
“There are a lot of people not adding to the economy of Five Points,” Gardner said. “They are using it just as place to gather. That is where the problems are.”
The Five Points Association board has met with USC student representatives and heard their suggestions, Franks said. She said she understood the school also would have its own proposed solutions.
“We’re all responsible,” Franks said. “It’s all hands on deck.”
Until three years ago, USC used large buses to shuttle students between Five Points and its campus. USC said it stopped the service because of a lack of interest by students. The school then made an arrangement with cab companies to ferry student for free within a five-mile radius of Five Points, but students have complained about long waits to get a cab.
Childress had been waiting for a cab for a half-hour when she was shot at the Five Points fountain at 2:30 a.m., Oct. 13. Police arrested a Columbia man and charged him in connection with the shooting. He allegedly was involved in an argument some distance away from Childress and her friends when shots were fired.
Students would use a shuttle with shorter wait times before they depart Five Points for campus, USC student government president Chase Mizzell said. The school is considering using its smaller buses, administrators said.
USC also is weighing adding pick-up spots to get cabs as well as more lighting and call boxes between its campus and Five Points to help students feel safer if they walk back to their dorms.
On Thursday, hundreds of students are expected to go to the campus concert featuring the band Seventy Six and Sunny, which agreed to play at no charge, Gardner said. USC Greek leaders also are working with student government and entertainment promoters about future events on campus.
Still, Gardner said she plans to keep going to Five Points.
“I would go because I support Five Points as a community, and I do feel safe in the bars, which have their own have security,” she said.