A gaggle of white cops wrestled a young, shirtless black man to the ground as a crowd of mostly young black people stood around.
It was on Ocean Boulevard in Myrtle Beach late one night during the height of the annual Atlantic Beach Memorial Day Bikefest.
The crowd had, by that time, seen the man be handcuffed, taken to the backseat of a squad car, removed and laid on the ground as EMS workers tended to him as he faked a medical emergency.
“Don’t kill me!” the man yelled as he was being handcuffed for the second time.
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It had all the makings of the kind of situation officials feared most, particularly given the national debate about the policing of minority groups. Since the unrest in Ferguson, New York and Baltimore, some news outlets and others have attributed a short spike in the violent crime rate in those areas — even though it’s way too early to tell if it is a reversal of a decades-long decline or a momentary blip — to a supposed refusal by police officers to do their jobs, afraid of being unfairly tarred, and a black community supposedly hostile to cops. (Fast fact: The Crime Research Prevention Center has found that the murder rate in the 15 largest cities has fallen so far this year by between 2 percent to 5 percent.)
“Don’t kill me!” the shirtless man kept yelling as the cops jostled with him.
If ever there was a moment our fears about social unrest and a clash between overly-aggressive cops and a group of black people ready to “fight the power” could be realized, that was it, especially given that Bikefest 2015 had come on the heels of a year-long campaign by many Myrtle Beach residents to push myth and misperception and falsehoods about the event.
There were rumors about the Rev. Al Sharpton renting out an entire hotel to fill it with protesters who were to be unleashed during Bikefest, and young black men breezily and boldly flashing guns throughout the area because they knew police would be afraid to engage them.
It didn’t matter that the Memorial Day 2014 Bikefest, when there were eight shootings and a triple homicide, was the anomalous year during the more than three-decade run of Bikefest, that the previous years of the event were so uneventful Myrtle Beach City Council had not seen the need to do anything special to deal with it, previous years’ one-way traffic plan on Ocean Boulevard wasn’t in place, and there were a couple hundred fewer law enforcement officials on the streets compared to this year.
It didn’t matter that there was a murder in January of 2014 and a couple of other shootings in Myrtle Beach before last May, or that there were 5 people killed in shootings this year before Memorial Day weekend; there were still plenty of people ascribing a unique level of violence to Bikefest, the facts be damned.
“Don’t kill me!” the shirtless black man kept yelling as a few white officers tried to get him into the back of a police van, using just enough force to complete their task — not more, not less.
How did the crowd respond?
They laughed at the idiotic behavior of the shirtless man and went back to enjoying what was a weekend-long street festival as the police van drove away.
A few minutes later, one of the white cops involved in the arrest was sharing chuckles with two young black men on high-powered motorcycles stuck in Ocean Boulevard traffic, a scene that repeated itself many times that weekend.
White cops and black Bikefest participants got it right.
When will the rest of us?