Longtime Atlantic Beach Bikefest attendees say this Memorial Day weekend was the worst one they’ve experienced in Myrtle Beach and they blame that on the city “that doesn’t want them.”
“This year was ridiculous,” said Timothy Mathews, who has attended the Atlantic Beach Bikefest every year since 2009 – a reunion and celebration for riders that dates back more than 36 years. The colloquially termed “black bike week” festival is held in what is historically known as the South’s only black beach.
Mathews says it was the only beach his 101-year-old great grandmother could go to in the throes of segregation. But as the festival grew in attendance, swelling the four-block-wide, 128-acre city to capacity, attendees looked south for hotels. Mathews has been staying in Myrtle Beach for the festival since 2009.
“This year was probably one of the worst years I’ve ever seen,” he said.
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The Portsmouth, Va., resident said his time in the city took a sharp turn for the worst when he awoke May 27 to find his 2002 Suzuki motorcycle had been confiscated.
Mathews’ bike was one of several impounded during an operation between the Myrtle Beach Police Department, S.C. Law Enforcement Division, the N.C. Department of Motor Vehicles and the National Insurance Crime Bureau that weekend.
Mathews said he felt unfairly targeted, but Myrtle Beach Police Lt. Joey Crosby says they have officers that work throughout the year to recover stolen motorcycles and vehicles; it wasn’t just that weekend.
Any allegation of harassment is going to be looked at by the Internal Affairs Division to see if the actions did or did not happen.
Lt. Joey Crosby, Myrtle Beach Police Department
The operation recovered 55 stolen motorcycles and three stolen vehicles from May 26-30, according to statistics released by MBPD.
But Mathews says the bike he bought off Craigslist wasn’t stolen and was tagged and registered legally.
The problem with his motorcycle, according to an incident report, was that officers observed the bike’s engine numbers had been grounded off.
The vehicle was in violation of South Carolina’s chop shop law, according to the report. It was seized and towed.
Mathews said he was told it would cost him about $1,500 to get it back, but the engine with the missing serial numbers had to stay.
“That was my only piece of transportation at the time,” he said.
This year was probably one of the worst years I’ve ever seen.
Timothy Mathews, longtime Bikefest attendee
Mathews got a ride back home with friends two days later.
Jermisadir Little, an Army veteran who has attended Bikefest every year since 1998, says he has boycotted Myrtle Beach since 2009. The Hickory, N.C., native stays in North Myrtle Beach or Cherry Grove now.
“The last time I stayed in Myrtle Beach was in 2008 and that was because of the harassment,” he said. “They’ve been harassing people and bullying people for years. … We ride through. We might stop and chill out a little bit, but I don’t spend one red dime in Myrtle Beach.”
A recent campaign announced on www.blackbikeweek.us and the site’s corresponding Facebook page is encouraging Bikefest attendees to boycott Myrtle Beach too.
“The move for 2017 is to boycott the city of Myrtle Beach. Move everyone to Atlantic Beach, North Myrtle Beach, Cherry Grove and the surrounding areas, and to not spend a single dime in the Myrtle Beach city limits,” said Clarence Middleton on a GoFundMe site he set up for the boycott campaign.
They’ve been harassing people and bullying people for years.
Jermisadir Little, longtime Bikefest attendee
Middleton said the decision to boycott came after he spoke to several attendees who lamented the way they were treated in Myrtle Beach during Bikefest.
“There’s five cops at every street corner. That’s unnecessary,” Little said.
All the extra eyes, the barricades, the one-way traffic pattern, the 23-mile traffic loop, he says, “they do that to harass you so you don’t want to come back.”
“The way we conduct business is we do not harass people; we enforce the laws and ordinances that are on the books,” Crosby said. “Officers were advised to enforce the ordinances. … That’s what we do all year round, not for any particular event and not for any particular day of the year.”
But Little says enforcement over Bikefest is nothing like enforcement during Harley Week.
“There’s only one-tenth of the police presence. They don’t do the traffic loop. They don’t block the street off. They’re not on every corner to mess with you,” Little said.
Several Harley week riders, however, still refuse to stay in Myrtle Beach after the city passed a helmet law that was eventually overturned by the state Supreme Court in 2010.
When Harley Week was at its largest in Myrtle Beach, Crosby said, outside agencies were brought in to assist in crowd control and law enforcement.
“The traffic loop and these other measures… this was not something that we the city of Myrtle Beach came up with on our own,” Crosby said.
The way we conduct business is we do not harass people we enforce the laws and ordinances that are on the books.
Lt. Joey Crosby, Myrtle Beach Police Department
In the wake of Bikefest 2014 when three people were killed and seven were injured in eight shootings along Ocean Boulevard, the city held a summit with other municipalities to share ideas about policing large events and techniques on crowd control.
The measures in place now were measures that have been employed in other cities, Crosby said. “All year round we encourage everyone when they come to this city to be safe, have fun and obey our laws.”
But Bikefest attendees say the laws keep changing.
“Nobody can really keep up with the rules because they change them every year,” Mathews said.
Crosby said their safety enforcement plan was the same this year as it was last year, with a few minor adjustments. Those tweaks included a ban on mopeds along Ocean Boulevard and officers were also asked to focus on issues raised in complaints last year, including quality control, noise and speeding.
For complaints of mistreatment, Crosby says they wear body cameras and the city has “900-something cameras along Ocean Boulevard … to capture incidents.”
“Any allegation of harassment is going to be looked at by the Internal Affairs Division to see if the actions did or did not happen,” he said.