For the second year in a row, my family and friends have gathered at Myrtle Beach for the Memorial Day holiday for sun and fun on the beach. We are four families with nine kids ranging from 8 to 17. As you might imagine, our beach activities involve a lot of wave jumping, and boogie boards.
This year, on Saturday, we were on the beach in front of the Land’s End Resort, off King’s Road. The day was beautiful, but the water was rough. In the afternoon, the red “No Swimming” flag went up. We pulled our kids out of the water and proceeded with a beach football game. The lifeguard had been active and alert all day. Although we kept a close eye on our own families, we were happy to have an extra set of eyes keeping watch.
All four of our families grew up on the beach in Atlantic Beach, N.C., and in fact, many of us had been lifeguards ourselves in our high school and college years. So, we understood (or thought we did) the “No Swimming” flag and the reason for it. At one point in the football game, one of the dads went to the water in order to rinse off his legs and arms. He was in the water up to his upper thighs, but he was definitely not swimming and did not even think that he might be considered to be in violation of “No Swimming.” At that point, the lifeguard blew his whistle (once) and waved to my friend to come in. Confused, my friend gestured back to the lifeguard by chopping at his thighs showing that he understood and that he was just rinsing off.
Before any further communication could occur between the lifeguard and my friend, two Horry County police officers rushed onto the beach and gestured for my friend to come to them, which he did immediately. As soon as my friend reached the police officers, they began to handcuff him.
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The rest of us in our party were stunned. His wife and one of the other dad’s rushed down to find out what was going on. They were summarily told by one of the officers that unless “you want to go in too,” that they should get away. The officers led my friend off of the beach and into one of their two waiting vehicles in the parking lot. My friend’s two children, ages 8 and 10, were crying and hugging their mother.
At this point, the lifeguard came down to speak to our group. He said that he had called the police earlier, but that he had called them in regards to a surfer who had refused a direct instruction from the lifeguard not to surf during the “No Swimming” time. He said that he had neither asked, nor would have asked, the police to get involved with my friend, who clearly just did not understand how deep he was allowed to get into the water. He apologized for any trouble that we were now having.
About 20 minutes later, without any further discussion or contact with our group, the two police vehicles drove off, our friend was gone, and we were left scrambling back to our condo to figure out what to do.
Our entire weekend has been disrupted to say the least. Should my friend have immediately come into the beach on the lifeguard’s whistle? In hindsight, the answer is definitely, yes. However, my friend thought he understood the lifeguard’s concern.
However, regardless of that very minor misunderstanding, there was ample opportunity for the Horry County Police officers to have shown restraint and common sense in this situation. My friend was cooperative. He was not belligerent, and he was not inebriated. Had they taken 30 seconds to speak to the lifeguard, they would have also learned that my friend was not a problem, and that the situation was normal.
As a parent, you always tell your kids that they should show respect for the law, and respect for the officers that maintain the law and protect us. However, when a situation like this occurs, it makes that explanation impossible to reconcile with events that the children see right in front of their eyes. These officers did not apply good judgment. They did not understand all of the circumstances of the situation, and then they applied the maximum force and penalty they could. There is no reason that a father, in the water below his waist, should be handcuffed and taken to jail in front of his children. It is not right, and I do not believe that it reflects the way that most Myrtle Beach residents would like for their community to be perceived.
The writer lives in Atlanta.