'That's what we hoped for': SC gov., NAACP officials speak on Bikefest

Bikefest participants ride Ocean Boulevard in Myrtle Beach, where business owners say business has been slower this year compared to previous ones.
Bikefest participants ride Ocean Boulevard in Myrtle Beach, where business owners say business has been slower this year compared to previous ones. jlee@the

Local and state officials are applauding measures taken by law enforcement officers during the annual Atlantic Beach Bikefest — measures that have been criticized by Myrtle Beach businesses and members of the NAACP.

This year, the event did not attract as many attendees as in previous years, and fewer motorcycles were seen driving down Ocean Boulevard. Businesses across the city reporter lower numbers over the holiday weekend.

On Tuesday, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster told local news outlet WPDE: "That's what we hoped for. We had some problems come out of North Carolina last year so we responded to that very forcefully. Clearly. We had law enforcement, the entire law enforcement establishment was activated and we made it clear we were not going to tolerate that kind of thing. This is a family beach and we're not going to tolerate it and apparently everyone got the message."

Each year, barricades line Ocean Boulevard as part of the 23-mile traffic loop that flows drivers out into the county, and allows for one-way traffic in downtown Myrtle Beach, as almost 430 police officers gather in the turning lanes of Ocean Boulevard.

The northbound lane of the road was left open for emergency vehicles.

"This is a vacation spot, and I think, it's not a family beach," said Myrtle Beach NAACP President Mickey James. "Myrtle Beach has not been a family beach since 40, 50 years ago now.

"The population is too dense in the summertime to be a family beach. It's too dense. And so it doesn't matter who's in office, it doesn't matter as far as what the people say in general, as far the family beach aspect."

Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune said she observed families walking up and down the boulevard, a sight that has been filled with motorcycles and a younger crowd in previous years of the event.

As people seemingly spread the event out across the Grand Strand, businesses along Ocean Boulevard reported a slower weekend, something many attendees of the event and business owners are attributing to the loop.

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"People that feel mistreated, or feel that something is wrong, our job is to make sure that, regardless of race or whoever they are, that they get treated fair by the laws," James said. "So that's what we all about. But the number has changed for Bikefest over the past three or four years, people just feel harassed. And that's what some people feel they go someplace else."

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Prior to the event, the NAACP filed a lawsuit against the City of Myrtle Beach and the city's police department over the traffic pattern.

"I think a lot of people didn't want to get caught up in the loop," said James. "I think a lot of people wanted to avoid that and didn't want to deal with it. That's one reason I think it went further north."

Despite the loop, James said he was "impressed" with Bikefest this year, and happy that people spread out across the Grand Strand.

During a news conference on May 24, NAACP associate general counsel Anson Asaka urged attendees to call a hotline where they could call in complaints against the loop, police harassment or any complaints against businesses.

NAACP leadership announced a lawsuit against the City of Myrtle Beach and the Myrtle Beach Police over the traffic loop that has been in place during Atlantic Beach Bikefest since the 2015 Memorial Day Weekend.

James said the civil rights group did not receive any call that were out of the ordinary this year.

Capt. Joey Crosby, public information officer for the Myrtle Beach Police Department, said officials have not gotten statistical data back from the event, and to comment on how the event went this year "would be premature."

"I think it went extremely well," Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune said. "Capt. Crosby and Chief [Amy] Prock's operational plan was imperative and executed seamlessly. It was a very organized weekend and I don't think it could have gone any better."

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