NAACP, bikers speak out on Myrtle Beach police presence during Bikefest
Members of the NAACP and bikers who visit Myrtle Beach each year for Atlantic Beach Bikefest have grown increasingly frustrated with the regulations the city imposes during their Memorial Day weekend festivities.
Biker Jermi Little said he’s been attending the Bikefest for over two decades, adding how he and his friends have experienced a level of harassment from officers stationed throughout the city. If the city continues to treat bikers with hostility, he said the annual event could turn violent.
“This could turn into the L.A. riots one day because if they keep harassing people, people are going to get tired of it,” Little told The Sun News. “They’re crossing lines.”
Late Thursday afternoon, the city and the Myrtle Beach chapter of the NAACP released a statement about comments made by some of the people who attended a press conference earlier in the day.
“We do not endorse that person’s comments or way of thinking,” Mickey James, president of the local NAACP chapter said in the statement. “The remarks by that one individual do not reflect the position of the NAACP and should not characterized as a statement or comment by the NAACP.”
Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune said, “We have worked extremely hard to make this weekend safe for all participants, whether they live here or are visiting for the Atlantic Beach Bikefest or any other reason. Such talk of violence has no place in the conversation. We are pleased to join with the NAACP in dismissing that way of thinking.”
Friday afternoon, Little called The Sun News explaining that he is not promoting or condoning violence, and that his comments were not meant to be taken that way.
With the city enacting a one-way, 23-mile traffic loop, placing barricades along Ocean Boulevard and enlisting nearly 500 police officers to maintain public safety during the event, advocates at an NAACP news conference Thursday morning at Myrtle Beach City Hall said the city has been unjust and racist to the more than 100,000 bikers who attend Bikefest, commonly known as Black Bike Week.
“This traffic pattern is fundamentally unjust, unfair, unconstitutional and unjustified,” said Anson Asaka, associate general counsel for the NAACP. “This is the one time of the year when the majority of people who come to this city are African American, and this is the one time of the year the city imposes a 23-mile traffic loop.”
The NAACP has long decried treatment during the weekend and use of the loop. They filed a lawsuit last year over the 23-mile loop, asserting it’s discriminatory and not used during other weekends, most notably springtime Harley Bike Week that takes place in early May.
The loop funnels traffic from Ocean Boulevard out to the county before returning to city limits. While it starts at 10 p.m. and runs to 2 a.m., the NAACP has argued that it takes four hours for some motorists to drive the route of the loop.
“You can’t say that you’re facilitating traffic when people are stuck in traffic for hours, in a virtual gridlock, a standstill,” Asaka said. “This traffic plan is 23 miles of shame, 23 miles of humiliation and degradation and oppression.”
Myrtle Beach officials have previously argued the loop is needed as a safety precaution. The loop has been the subject of controversy since the city implemented it in 2015 after three men were killed in shooting incidents during the 2014 Bikefest event.
Asaka said the city used the shootings as a pretext to treat the thousands of predominantly black bikers who attend Bikefest unfairly and make their visit as unpleasant and unenjoyable as possible. He said city officials want to rid the area of the annual event, also adding how city restaurants and retailers have also shut their doors during Bikefest to restrict black people from conducting business.
“Treat us like people who are going to spend money in your town,” said biker Marlon Robinson. “I have avoided eating a meal in Myrtle Beach for the last eight or nine years because I’m badly treated.”
After the judge sided with the city last year to allow the loop, the NAACP struck back in February asking a judge to once again block the loop, citing discrimination and ever-changing city defenses. But their attempt to block the detour was once again denied on Wednesday, days before the event.
Judge Mary Geiger stated in her order that African Americans “do appear disparately impacted” by the loop, but Myrtle Beach’s use of the detour did not come from “discriminatory intent.”
In her ruling, Lewis noted the NAACP case isn’t without merit, but didn’t meet the requirements for her to issue an order to block the loop. She added she weighed the NAACP concerns with the city’s public safety fears and determined Myrtle Beach had the better argument.
Asaka said the NAACP will continue to fight the city until they have their day in court and justice is served.
“We are deeply disappointed but we are not deterred,” Asaka said. “We lost that one battle but our war for equality, our war for freedom, our war for justice continues.”
Staff writer Alex Lang contributed to this report.