A prime-time History Channel show on local television tonight will focus on a face of Columbia rarely seen - the capital city as a mecca for bloody gang violence and drug dealing.
"In the Deep South, one gang reigns supreme . . . the Gangsta Killa Bloods," intones a deep-voiced narrator at the show's beginning.
The show airs at 8 p.m. today on the History Channel, channel 45 on Time Warner Cable. It is part of the History Channel's gangland series.
For the next hour, the show takes viewers on a tour through Columbia's impoverished neighborhoods where poor kids see their only chance to make money is to join the Bloods, rob other gangs' drug dealers, have gun battles and sell cocaine to the city's estimated several thousand drug addicts.
"Columbia is a lucrative market, with plenty of addicts," the narrator says. "In a town with few options, dealing drugs is the easiest way to quick cash."
Viewers also see a gang member discuss the Bloods' bizarre finger signs, spray-paint messages, code words (female members are called "rubies"), weapons (AK-47 assault rifle is a favorite), and gang initiations - sex for girls, and beatings for boys.
The show also quotes a local Columbia gang member, who says he named his baby daughter Little Blood Drop - red being the color of the Gangsta Killa Bloods, who sport red bandannas. It shows a dramatized depiction of gang members meeting at a dead gang member's grave and pouring whisky on the dirt.
"The show is accurate," said acting U.S. Attorney Kevin McDonald, who notes however that some scenes are re-creations of actual events by actors.
McDonald helped oversee a team of FBI agents and local law enforcement officers who made hundreds of hours of secret cell phone wiretaps to gather evidence that eventually sent dozens of top gang members to federal prison.
McDonald is quoted in the show, as well as local FBI agents Rodney Crawford and Brian Jones, among the lead investigators into the gang.
The History Channel's show, which relies to a large extent on in-depth reporting in 2007 by The State on the Gangsta Killa Bloods, also says Columbia city officials for years turned a blind eye to the gang problem.
Among local law enforcement, Richland County Sheriff Leon was the only prominent law enforcement figure who from early 2000 warned the public that gangs were a danger.
Other officials, like former Columbia Police Chief Charles Austin, denied there was a problem.
"People should look at this show and realize this is what really happened," said Lott, who is quoted in the History Channel's show. "It is the truth."
Most of the Bloods are now in prison, and the gang problem has lessened, said Lott. Many of his deputies are school resource officers who teach children constantly how to resist gang messages and form support groups so they won't be pressured to join gangs.
SLED director Reggie Lloyd, the former U.S. attorney who led much of the prosecution against the Bloods, said he had not previewed the show but was looking forward to it.
"They're extremely dangerous," Lloyd said.