City of Columbia officials and state lawmakers will now push even harder for changes in the legal system to help reduce crime by repeat offenders after the shooting of a University of South Carolina student in Five Points.
18-year-old USC freshman Martha Childress is paralyzed from the waist down after a stray bullet lodged near her spine when police say a convicted felon fired shots from a stolen gun during an argument Sunday.
Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin gathered with a group of lawmakers on the steps of the Statehouse yesterday to stress this is the latest shooting involving a suspected gang member whom many feel should have been behind bars.
“Enough is enough,” Benjamin said. “We're here today because we all believe that the system is broken and the only way to fix it is by working together.”
The mayor says a panel he's appointed on bond and probation reform likely will meet next week to further discuss solutions.
Meanwhile, Richland County State Representatives Kirkman Finlay and Leon Howard addressed the same issue as they spoke in Five Points yesterday.
Finlay, who owns a restaurant there, says certain judges must understand that their job is to protect people and not be lenient on criminals.
“Everyone deserves a second chance...but not unlimited and unsupervised chances,” Finlay said.
The shooting suspect in the Five Points case, 20-year-old Michael Smith, had several burglary and drug charges on his record, multiple arrests and was out on probation.
Howard says there needs to be a bipartisan approach to the problem.
Meanwhile, nearly 300 people attended a community meeting Wednesday night to address what can be done about escalating crime in Five Points.
Some echoed concerns about reforming bond and probation laws.
Other suggestions included cracking down more on loitering in the popular entertainment district and making Five Points a pedestrian-only area at night.
There were also calls for involving more law enforcement assistance from the Richland County Sheriff's Department and the State Law Enforcement Division.
Mayor Benjamin says the session was to start a dialogue on how to make Five Points a safer place.