COLUMBIA, SC — Law enforcement agencies were planning to step up their numbers to meet the large crowds expected in Five Points even after the Gamecocks’ loss.
Police don’t plan to take chances after a rash of armed robberies around the periphery of USC, Benedict College and Allen University – and one on USC’s campus itself – in recent weeks.
That’s on top of repeated trouble with guns in Five Points during last year’s football season and into the spring. A shooting in October left a USC freshman paralyzed by what police said was a stray bullet and shook the core of the symbiotic relationship between the university community and the adjacent entertainment district that’s nestled into nearby neighborhoods.
Small early crowds outside bars and restaurants Thursday night were expected to be replaced by larger ones as the night went on, peaking around 2 or 3 a.m. At around 1:30 a.m., crowds were healthy but not huge.
As groups of Gamecock and Aggies fans alike began to turn out in larger numbers just before midnight, Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook said everything was going smoothly.
The chief, who is seeing his first football season in Columbia, said he had been patrolling the entertainment districts all evening, from Five Points to the Vista.
“We have a strong uniform and plainclothes officer presence in throughout the entertainment districts,” Holbrook said. “Everyone seems to be enjoying their night.”
A little after 12:30 a.m., Columbia police set up a headquarters at the Exxon gas station on Harden Street. Officers on foot were stationed at the corners of Greene and Harden streets as well as Devine and Harden.
At 1:30 a.m., pedestrian traffic throughout the entertainment village remained light.
Some officers said they were happy to see fans enjoying the night responsibly, while others were surprised that more people didn't show up to celebrate the first game of the Gamecocks' season.
At 11:30 p.m., Columbia police officer Kai Tull, standing at the intersection of Devine and Harden streets in the heart of Five Points, seemed to realize officers might be helped by the loss.
“It’s quiet now – there probably would be more people if they had won,” he said.
Shortly before 11 p.m., tow trucks began arriving in central Five Points, stationing themselves to tow away illegally parked cars or deal with other vehicle emergencies.
Taxi driver Marc Chestnut, 52, said he hoped business would pick up after midnight.
“It’s probably going to get pretty busy,” he predicted. “Would have gotten busier if the Gamecocks had won.”
As vehicle and foot traffic began to increase around 10:30 p.m., police presence in the area remained minimal.
Units from the University of South Carolina Police Department and Columbia Police could be seen throughout the nightlife district, but no incidents had been reported.
Just after 9 p.m., a somber but hopeful mood set in over Columbia as the Gamecocks entered the fourth quarter. A few folks spilled into Five Points, taking refuge of a sort.
Britney Root stood outside a bar as Gamecock fans inside yelled after a incomplete pass. She decided to draw a line in the sand with Aggies fans, should they decide to show up.
“They can take our stadium. They can take our State House,” Root said. “But they cannot take Five Points.”
Hamilton Brown stood at the door checking IDs as a few fans trickled in and out of the Cover 3 bar on Harden Street.
He said he is expecting a heavy turnout regardless of the game’s outcome.
“But if they lose, we may be seeing a little more maroon than garnet,” Brown said.
So far, police presence was light around the staple nightlife center, but Greg Kraft said more police will be coming soon.
Kraft said his brother is a Columbia police officer and the department was expecting to deploy nearly 100 officers to Five Points.
At 9:10 pm, with the Gamecocks down 51-28, the crowds started picking up. Motorcycles with modified mufflers began cruising the streets, their loud noise drowning out conversation as they passed.
A group of young women stood near Yesterdays, screaming something about “tequilas!” to another group young women across the street.
A man walking quickly down the sidewalk south toward Shandon said into his cell phone, “Let me get out of here before things get crazy.”
He signed off and told a reporter that at the ancient age of 32, he was too old to really enjoy the Five Points post-game scene.
“Been there, done that,” said John Raines of Columbia, a kitchen worker at the new, bacon-focused Sizzle restaurant. “If I was 22, I would want to be be here.”
At 9:40 pm, more people began flowing down the sidewalks.
Bouncers waited outside bars, awaiting the crowds. Traffic was light but starting to thicken. Few police were visible.
“We got killed, 54-28,” a young woman said.
“52-28,” a friend corrected her.
“It was horrible,” said Shermaun Burchett, 19, who had come to Five Points with a friend to take in the sights.