NAACP officials are in town this weekend to monitor the treatment of black tourists by businesses and police during the Atlantic Beach bikefest — a task they’ve undertaken for a decade since a discrimination lawsuit against Myrtle Beach was settled.
Instead of moving forward, local and national chapter officials say the Grand Strand is still unwelcoming of the bike rally and motorcycle enthusiasts who stream into the area every Memorial Day weekend, bringing with them an economic boost for local businesses.
At a news conference Thursday in front of the Sandy Grove Baptist Church, NAACP officials said discrimination is still evident in the enormous police presence they say doesn’t exist during the bike rally for Harley riders that precedes black bike week, or any other holiday weekend.
“We know about how during Harley week, they would have signs up saying ‘welcome bikers,’ and then the following week during black bike week, they would take down those signs,” said Anson Asaka, associate general counsel for the NAACP.
“The goal is to ensure that all tourists in Myrtle Beach are treated fairly and equally by the businesses and the police and the city,” Asaka said.
Mickey James, president of the Myrtle Beach Branch NAACP, said there is no need for the enormous police presence that will top 500 officers, and urged local officials to dramatically reduce that number and eliminate the traffic loop.
James and Asaka said some businesses close their doors during the weekend event, and that one restaurant last year would not let bikers inside, restricting them to outside service.
“We’ve seen this with our own eyes,” Asaka said. “We’ve seen businesses close their doors and refuse to serve African Americans, we’ve seen African Americans treated like second-class citizens here in Myrtle Beach.”
The civil rights organization criticized the 23-mile traffic loop as a tool to frustrate bike week participants.
The loop was put in place following a 2014 shooting incident when an impromptu street party erupted during a traffic jam, killing three people and wounding five others.
The intention of the loop was to keep traffic moving to prevent those traffic jams and street parties.
Asaka described it as “23 miles of shame, humiliation and discrimination.”
Asaka and James said the loop is instead the source of major traffic jams that frustrates residents, business owners and tourists, while doing nothing to curtail crime.
“Instead of preventing crime, what this traffic plan does is it collectively punishes thousands of innocent people because of the actions of a few,” Asaka said.
Citing a rash of violence during the Easter week, when eight shootings were reported within a week in Horry County, James said the county has a year-round crime problem.
“We feel like they can’t point fingers now when there’s been shootings going on year-round,” James said. “We have some serious issues, not with black bike week, but with Myrtle Beach as a whole.”
The NAACP urged participants this weekend to call their hotline at 888-362-8683 to report incidents of discrimination.
The NAACP has before sued and settled with the City of Myrtle Beach a discrimination lawsuit.