According to Richland County sheriff, Leon Lott, the gang problem in in Columbia’s Five Points entertainment district isn’t getting better. In fact, it’s getting worse. He claims that a large part of the problem is a bar, The Library, that has a reputation for being gang member friendly.
Lott recently launched an investigation that involved sending officers into the bar. Some of these officers wore uniforms, while others when undercover. Based on the information collected by both sets of officers, a single gang is hard at work trying to claim the bar as their own. Not only do they get into fights with rival gangs, but they have also taken to robbing anyone who isn’t connected to the gang and is in the area after midnight.
This isn’t the first time The Library has drawn heat from local law enforcement. Court records indicate that it has a history of police citations as being the site of both illegal activity and bar fights.
The recent shooting in Five Points that left a University of South Carolina student who was waiting for a taxi paralyzed has drawn media attention to the gang problem in the area, as well as triggered a public demand for local law enforcement to crack down on all gang related activity.
According to Lott, shutting down The Library would be the first step in helping reduce gang activity. He points out that bar has had an opportunity to regulate the gang clientele it attracts but that management has chosen not to do so.
“They need to close and they need to cease the type of operations they’re doing right now,” he told reporters. “They are the sore spot in the Five Points area.”
Justin Kershner who owns The Library quickly pointed out that it’s not fair to cite his establishment as the source of all the trouble just because it happens to be the only bar in Five Points. “By targeting my place because I have a predominantly black crowd in my business… what you’re telling me, as an American citizen, is that every black person is a gangster.”
Lott admits that his undercover operation was done without the permission of the Columbia Police Department who officially provide protection to Five Points. He claims he didn’t seek the assistance of the CPD because he didn’t want to have to cut through all the red tape involved in obtaining permission.
“I don’t have to ask permission,” Lott said. “If it’s a law enforcement function that we need to get done, then we go out and we get it done.” Justin Kershner, the interim police chief of the Columbia Police Department says he has no objections with the way Lott handled the matter.
Attorney Joseph Sandefur of South Carolina’s top personal injury firm Joe and Martin hopes the investigation is the first step in cleaning up the Five Points area. “People who venture into Five Points, shouldn’t have to worry about getting shot or robbed while they’re there. I hope local law enforcement continues to work to eradicate the gang contingency in the area.”