The NAACP will keep a close watch on visitors, locals and area police to ensure treatment of visitors here for Atlantic Beach Memorial Day Bikefest is the same as for those who came for the Harley-Davidson rally, though some leaders said Thursday the 23-mile traffic loop already sets the wrong tone.
Leaders of the state and local chapters of the NAACP met with media Thursday to discuss their initiative, Operation Bike Week Justice, which started nine years ago to protest businesses closing during Bikefest, which is predominantly black, but remaining open during the Harley rally.
Lonnie Randolph, president of the South Carolina NAACP, said the organization has set up a hotline for people to report any ill treatment they may receive this Memorial Day weekend.
“We’re here to ensure that no injustice takes place,” Randolph said. “In Dr. [Martin Luther] King’s words, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’”
Anson Asaka, associate general counsel with the NAACP, said progress was made at the start of the initiative as businesses, city officials and police began showing signs of welcoming tourists regardless of race.
“As a result of our efforts, there had been relatively improved police relations with the public,” Asaka said. “There’s been significant improvement here in Myrtle Beach… We are concerned about the new law enforcement measures that are being taken. We are concerned that they may possibly be a step backwards.”
Local emergency personnel created a task force after last year’s Memorial Day weekend ended with three people dead and seven injured in eight shootings on Ocean Boulevard in Myrtle Beach. The violence occurred the same weekend as Bikefest, Military Appreciation Days and the first three-day weekend of the summer when tourists traditionally have flocked to the beach.
The crime sparked a plan to create a 23-mile traffic loop staffed with more than 100 officers and private security. The loop, set off by metal barricades, cones and temporary walls, is an effort to keep traffic moving and cut down on street parties from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
It runs from 29th Avenue North on Ocean Boulevard south and around to Kings Highway, north to Harrelson Boulevard, which turns into George Bishop Parkway, west to Waccamaw Boulevard, which runs next to U.S. 501, onto S.C. 31 heading north to Grissom Parkway south, then onto U.S. 17 Bypass and down 29th Avenue North.
“We’re concerned that that traffic pattern may exacerbate the problem instead of ease the traffic,” Asaka said. “There has been an increased police presence in this city... We’re concerned about unnecessary arrests. We’re concerned about possible police harassment. We’re concerned about the impact that these new measures will have on businesses. We’re concerned that businesses may reverse the clock and begin to close again.”
Mickey James, president of the Myrtle Beach Chapter of the NAACP, said the chapter’s strong weekend presence will hopefully show police, businesses and visitors that it is serious about equality.
“We’re here to make sure people’s lives are protected safely and that they arrive home safely and that they be treated like anybody else,” James said. “We don’t want to be compared to Waco [Texas.] We don’t have that kind of a hate here in Myrtle Beach.”
James was referencing a deadly shoot out between rival biker gangs in Waco, Texas earlier this month where nine were killed, 18 injured and nearly 200 suspects have been detained for questioning.
As for Bikefest this weekend, the NAACP said in a statement that it and black individuals throughout the last 10 years have successfully settled a number of discrimination lawsuits against the city of Myrtle Beach and area businesses for unequal treatment of Black Bike Week visitors. The past actions prompted the organization to set up a complaint hotline for individuals to report closed businesses, police misconduct or other unfair treatment by calling (888) 362-8683 or by visiting Sandy Grove Baptist Church at 1008 Carver Street in Myrtle Beach to file a complaint in person.
Grand Strand police officers have had cultural training in preparation for this weekend, and Randolph said
“I have a better training for all people in the public arena to train for,” Randolph said. “It’s called human training. I think we make too much of an ordeal of the fact that one person’s skin is one way or the other person’s skin is another way... If you teach people to be human beings, it doesn’t matter what culture you’re dealing with, you will know how to act like a human being. That’s a great act to perform.”
Contact JASON M. RODRIGUEZ at 626-0301 or on Twitter @TSN_JRodriguez.