James Arnez of the Black Shepherds Motorcycle Club came to the Atlantic Beach Bikefest to spend time with family and take a break from his hometown of Baltimore, which has been rocked by the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody.
“I just wanted to get away and relax with my brothers and nephew. But I’m starting to hate it here because of all the cops,” said Arnez, who has attended the festival for 16 years.
The police presence in Atlantic Beach was as sporadic as the weather — skies were sunny on Friday and Sunday, but the bike rally was interrupted Saturday by intermittent rain showers that signaled the approach of tropical weather.
More than a dozen state troopers manned the blockades at both ends of Atlantic Street to direct bikers through the eight-block festival, while officials from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division hung out mid-block in golf carts and officers from other agencies cruised through the crowd.
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About 50 police officers and emergency personnel were in Atlantic Beach when the sun was shining on Friday and Sunday.
When the rain came steady down on Saturday, roughly 20 officers were on the streets while several others stayed in their patrol cars.
John Arnold of High Point, North Carolina, who has been coming to Bikefest for 20 years, agrees that the police presence has grown, and says he doesn’t see the need for it.
The rally is the main source of income for Atlantic Beach, and a windfall of tourism dollars for Myrtle Beach, said Arnold, who also questioned whether there were this many cops involved with the Harley rally last week.
“Police should not harass like they do,” said Arnold.
James “Masterblaster” Ford, who has been coming to Bikefest since 1993, said the sheer number of police officers in Atlantic Beach wasn’t necessary.
“It was fun back in the day, we didn’t have any restrictions, we didn’t hold up traffic,” Ford said.
Arthur Grant of Savannah, Georgia, who is 80 years old and has traveled to Bikefest for 30 years, disagreed.
He said the cops might be hassling the young kids in Myrtle Beach, but not in Atlantic Beach.
“They can’t be as free down there as we are up here. Cops don’t harass us up here,” Grant said.
The police in Atlantic Beach did mostly keep to themselves and huddled in groups, mingling with the crowd only when they were approached with questions or greeted by passers-by.
Terry Bernard of Greenville said he understands some of the traffic restrictions are necessary in Myrtle Beach, “but we don’t need all that up here.”
Nonetheless, Bernard said he gets along with the officers every year, and this weekend offered to share a plate of ribs with a cop.
“As long as you don’t stop traffic, they won’t bother you,” Bernard said.