Local and national NAACP leaders say they will monitor police and business practices to ensure that Atlantic Beach Bikefest attendees are not discriminated against during the Memorial Day weekend event.
This year marks the 10th year that officials from the organization have monitored the Grand Strand event, which they say will draw 300,000 African-American visitors.
Speaking during a news conference Thursday on the steps of the Sandy Grove Baptist Church in Myrtle Beach, NAACP leaders urged attendees who are refused service or turned away at local hotels, restaurants or other businesses, or who are harassed by police, to file complaints by calling 888-362-8683 or online at http://action.naacp.org/page/s/bikeweek.
“We will continue to monitor and to make sure those who are visiting -- and good behavior -- will be protected by the NAACP,” said Mickey James, president of the Myrtle Beach chapter.
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The NAACP has settled several discrimination lawsuits against the City of Myrtle Beach for unequal treatment of Bikefest visitors in previous years. Officials say they are continuing to monitor the event every year.
“Many businesses used to be closed during bike week, they used to take down their ‘welcome biker’ signs when black people came to this town, but because of the work of the NAACP, they now welcome bikers and are open for business,” said Anson Asaka, associate counsel for the national NAACP office in Baltimore, Maryland.
NAACP officials said that some businesses continue to close during the event and they received one report last year that a restaurant closed the indoor dining room and would only serve customers outside.
Asaka and James say discrimination during Bikefest also continues in the form of the 23-mile traffic loop -- a rerouting of all vehicles intended to keep traffic moving to cut down on impromptu street parties. It was during one such street party in 2014 that a shooting left three people dead.
You have all kinds of events that come to the city that generate large crowds of people, but this is the only time of year when they had this 23-mile traffic pattern, and the only time of year when the majority of tourists are African American in this city.
Anson Asaka, associate counsel, NAACP
The traffic loop 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.
NAACP leaders oppose the traffic loop and call it discriminatory because the traffic diversion is only used during the annual Bikefest event.
“No other bike (rally) requires this type of oversight by the City of Myrtle Beach,” James said. “What is it that’s unique about Black Bike Week that requires this type of scrutiny?”
Asaka said city officials over-reacted to the 2014 shooting, and are now “turning back the clock of progress.”
“You have all kinds of events that come to the city that generate large crowds of people, but this is the only time of year when they had this 23-mile traffic pattern, and the only time of year when the majority of tourists are African-American in this city,” Asaka said.
“We don’t think that it is a coincidence, that these overly aggressive police tactics are only imposed when the majority of tourists here are African-American,” Asaka said.
Hundreds of additional police officers from around the state were called in last year to assist with security and enforcing the traffic loop.
Mark Kruea, Myrtle Beach spokesman, said the event is not led by one central organization, so there is no one to take responsibility for planning or special event permits detailing how traffic, parking or litter will be handled.
We’ve gone to great lengths to publicize that we don’t want anyone to be surprised when they get here and realize it’s not a giant street party, but that they are welcome to come and have a safe and fun time.
Mark Kruea, spokesman, Myrtle Beach
“We need to respond to what we anticipate occurring with the safety of event participants and everybody in mind,” Kruea said.
“We’ve gone to great lengths to publicize that we don’t want anyone to be surprised when they get here and realize it’s not a giant street party, but that they are welcome to come and have a safe and fun time,” Kruea said.
Although residents and tourists alike complained of being caught in the loop for hours last year, Kruea says the traffic control “worked well, when you consider our goal was safety.”
The Harley-Davidson rally, which was held last week, is centered along the south Strand outside of Myrtle Beach city limits. Atlantic Beach Bikefest is the only major motorcycle rally that runs through Myrtle Beach, Kruea said.
“There’s not another big, ‘let’s drive around’ event like this one during the year, that’s why we don’t use the loop for any other event,” Kruea said.