Myrtle Beach mayor responds to NAACP lawsuit

It's all about public safety, according to Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune, one day after the NAACP filed a race discrimination lawsuit.

The suit, which was filed Tuesday morning, focuses on the Myrtle Beach Police Department's traffic pattern that is in place during Bikefest, an annual festival over Memorial Day weekend. The NAACP said the loop is a form of discrimination against black people.

Bethune said:

"What I want to do on behalf of council is to reassure the public that our number one concern always has been and always will be public safety. And that's just really what I want to stress. To me, my job is to make the public feel secure in their city management and their city government and our number one focus is to make sure our public is safe in all situations and all special events no matter how many people are here."

The NAACP announced the lawsuit during a news conference Tuesday morning.

The brunt of the problem, members said, is the difference between Harley Week and Bikefest. During Harley Week, members said, the city and police department do not enforce a traffic pattern. A few weeks later, traffic is restricted on Ocean Boulevard during Bikefest, which is often referred to as Black Bike Week, a release states.

"All citizens are entitled to equal protection under the law and have the rights of expression, assembly and association," said NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson in a news release. "The city's traffic plan and overly-aggressive policing tactics during Black Bike Week violates those fundamental constitutional rights. The association will continue to use the courts to fight such blatant discrimination."

The traffic pattern is a 23-mile loop that stretches from Ocean Boulevard out to George Bishop Parkway and back to Ocean Boulevard. The loop is often criticized during the festival, after it was implemented in 2015.

But this isn't the first time the NAACP has filed a lawsuit against the city.

In 2003, the group filed a suit after the city imposed a one-way traffic plan, court documents show. A federal judge issued a preliminary injunction, finding that the NAACP showed that Harley Week and Bikefest were treated differently.

After the latest lawsuit was filed Tuesday, Myrtle Beach's City Manager John Pedersen and police public information officer Capt. Joey Crosby said they would not comment on pending litigation.

"That will continue to be our main focus — public safety," Bethune said.

Staff writers Hannah Strong and Alex Lang contributed to this report.

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