'This is just round one': NAACP talks traffic loop, police ahead of Bikefest

With Atlantic Beach Bikefest right around the corner, officials from the NAACP held a news conference Thursday morning to discuss the treatment of black people throughout the weekend — a discussion the centered around a lawsuit against the 23-mile traffic loop and an increased police presence.

The suit was filed against the City of Myrtle Beach and the city's police department in February over the traffic plan that funnels traffic from Ocean Boulevard out to the county before returning to city limits.

"We're told that this traffic plan is designed to decrease traffic congestion, but people are stuck in traffic for hours," said Anson Asake, NAACP associate general counsel. "A trip that ordinarily takes 10 to 15 minutes ends up taking people hours."

The civil rights group recently battled with the city in federal court, where attorneys for the group argued the loop was "unjustified, unfair and unconstitutional.”

The NAACP called the 23-mile traffic loop discriminatory and said it takes away from the enjoyment of the weekend. City officials say the loop is a public safety measure and the number of incidents has dropped since 2015.

Just days before the event, the judge ruled the city can use the loop for the 2018 event.

The loop is used from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday night. The city also converts a stretch of Ocean Boulevard into a one-way road to allow emergency vehicles to use the other lanes. That one-way stretch starts Friday at 6 a.m.

"We may have lost the battle, but the war's still going on," Asake said. "We've been here for years fighting against injustice in Myrtle Beach, and we're not about to stop now. We can't stop, and we won't stop. This is just round one. It continues."

The NAACP plans to appeal the decision and will dispose various city officials, including the police chief.

"The real intent behind this traffic plan is to discourage African Americans from attending Black Bike Week," Asake said. "There's no rational basis for this traffic plan. It doesn't serve any of the purposes they claim it serves. It's designed to make it as unpleasant as possible so that African Americans will not come to Black Bike Week."

Officials also spoke of an increased police presence that will be seen throughout the weekend.

According to Capt. Joey Crosby, public information officer for the Myrtle Beach Police Department, 427 officers will be in town, including officers from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, South Carolina Highway Patrol and the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.

Asake said the NAACP has a hotline where people can call in complaints against the loop, police harassment or any complaints against businesses. The number is 888-362-8683.

"We call upon our people, as they enjoy the beach, to obey the law and to stay the course," Kenneth Floyd, NAACP Conway branch member, said. "We're here because we will not be deterred by the ruling."

Judge Marvin Quattlebaum issued his ruling Wednesday afternoon.

"The Court finds that the public interest will be best served if the City is allowed to proceed with its traffic plan for Memorial Day Weekend 2018," Quattlebaum wrote in the order.

Both sides argued their case before Quattlebaum during a hearing in Greenville earlier this month.

The NAACP claimed another loop this year would create "irreparable harm." But, Quattlebaum rejected that overture. He noted the loop has been in place for three years without any action by the NAACP.

"The Plaintiffs could have brought suit to enjoin the Defendants’ traffic plan at any time over the past three years, but they did not do so. Instead, the Plaintiffs filed suit three months before Memorial Day Weekend 2018. The Court finds that this delay weighs against the Plaintiffs’ request for the extraordinary remedy of a preliminary injunction," the judge stated.

In fact, Quattlebaum stated, if he granted the injunction the city would be impacted.

"The Court further finds that if the traffic plan is enjoined only a few days before Memorial Day that the Defendants will be prejudiced in their ability to provide for the public safety during Memorial Day Weekend and that there is a risk of the same or similar harm this year as there was during prior Memorial Day Weekends when no traffic plan was in place," he wrote.

— Reporter Alex Lang contributed to this report.

Related stories from Myrtle Beach Sun News