An earlier juvenile curfew has been touted as another tool for law enforcement after a high-profile string of shootings, but for visitors like Larry Sanders and Khalid Wannamaker, it might just put a damper on their vacation next year.
And it also could institute a new wave of police stops of pedestrians starting at midnight.
Sanders, 17, of Columbia, and Wannamaker, 14, of Spartanburg, spoke to The Sun News long after 1 a.m. Saturday morning, the curfew for people 17 and under. They said they just wanted to walk the strip after a day with their families, attending attractions like Myrtle Waves Water Park. Moving up the curfew is unnecessary, the boys said.
“We pay good money to come down,” Sanders said.
And they also were unnerved by police presence, as it seemed that a car had been pulled over “every three blocks.”
Wannamaker said the presence made him feel like a wanted criminal.
But city council approved the earlier curfew with six votes Tuesday and will vote on it once more before it goes into effect (Councilman Mike Chestnut was absent for the vote). It’s one of many tools that’s being used after a shooting two weeks ago that sent six people to the hospital and was live-streamed on Facebook for over 4 million viewers. The heavier police presence that unnerved Sanders and Wannamaker, as well as metal barricades along several blocks of Ocean Boulevard were instituted after the shooting.
City council also removed an exception to the curfew that allowed minors to run errands for parents. Several other exceptions to the curfew are still in place, including if minors are accompanied by a guardian, involved in an emergency, on the way to or from work or attending certain activities that are supervised by adults.
City Manager John Pedersen said the provision should be removed because the city should not send the message that it’s okay to send teens out on errands late at night.
Officials have supported the earlier curfew in part because the mass shooting on Ocean Boulevard two weeks ago happened shortly after midnight. Police also suspect a 17-year-old male from North Carolina was the shooter, but they have not released the man’s name as he recovers in the hospital.
Mayor John Rhodes used the common expression Tuesday: “Nothing good happens after midnight.”
But moving the curfew up by an hour moves up the police’s ability to stop anyone they think might be remotely close to 17.
Horry County Solicitor Jimmy Richardson, who thinks the earlier curfew is “a good idea to look into,” said officers could plausibly stop many people who have not committed a curfew violation.
“There’s no certain magical look about an 18-year-old,” he said.
And under the U.S. Supreme Court case Terry v. Ohio, officers have significant leeway to do a pat down, or check a detainee on top of their clothing for weapons, Richardson said.
“If you go out and stop an 18- or 19-year-old that looked underage and he had a gun or a knife or a bag of stolen money on him, of course it could lead to other charges,” Richardson said. “But that’s a good thing.”
Myrtle Beach police and the outside agencies that have been helping police the waterfront district since Easter will now have more latitude to stop young people, though that ability would only begin at midnight.
In another case of widely used pedestrian stops, the “stop and frisk” program used by the New York City Police Department was eventually ruled unconstitutional and determined to discriminate disproportionately against people of color by a federal judge in 2013.
“I’ve got confidence our police officers will handle it and use the training that they’ve had in cultural sensitivity, and that they’ll be fair-handed in doing it,” Pedersen said. “I have a lot of confidence in our … individual police officers to do the right thing.”
Lt. Joey Crosby of Myrtle Beach police said that officers receive a cultural sensitivity training every year, usually in the spring.
The trainings are an “overview of various cultures and how to interact, what some may find offensive, what some may not find offensive,” and are taught by different people every year, Crosby said.
Councilman Randal Wallace has told The Sun News that he wants to see more police stops of pedestrians, though he doesn’t want the city to turn into a “police state.”
But some of the steps the city already has taken have made a big impression on visitors, according to Councilman Mike Lowder. At the end of Tuesday’s meeting, Lowder says several hoteliers have called him and said that visitors who are not aware of the recent violence find the barriers disconcerting.
“The folks that were visiting and coming to motels and staying at motels, they’re concerned about the barricades,” Lowder said.
“Having those barricades continue there just kind of like, just, keeps us in that same mode.”
There was no consensus among council members that the barricades should immediately be removed, and Pedersen said that police have told him they’re still an effective tool. He said the city would continue to evaluate if they’re working.
“I understand this is something that does have a psychological effect,” Pedersen said.