This shouldn’t need to be said, but I’ll say it any way:
There’s no reason to believe Myrtle Beach police and other law enforcements officials in town for Atlantic Beach Memorial Day Bikefest have any intention of purposefully harassing participants.
But it also makes sense that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored people will continue its yearly monitoring of events. How could it ever be a bad idea for everyday citizens to try to hold a governmental agency accountable?
On a basic level, to suggest that police would purposefully cause trouble would be to impugn the character, integrity and professionalism of those who will be patrolling our streets this weekend. If you don’t believe that, here’s a more practical reality:
Because of the debate that has erupted during this past year about police and community tension, no one with a badge, and in his right mind, would purposefully inflame things during a weekend like this, particularly given the negative national headlines Memorial Day weekend 2014 generated.
That doesn’t mean there won’t be mistakes made by individual law enforcement officials, that there won’t be instances of officers being too stern or even going overboard. We hope even that doesn’t occur, but that’s always a possibility, no matter the event.
I’ve argued, and will continue to argue, that real reform is needed from top to bottom in the criminal justice system, including how we are policed at the local level. That part of the conversation must not end, not because departments are intentionally doing things wrong, but because just like in every other industry, they can be improved.
That overall debate, though, is something different from what we are trying to deal with this weekend. Officers coming into town have received training and a ton of reminders about the need to be professional and wise and to deescalate tense situations, among other things. And when Myrtle Beach officials realized that some of their preparations, out of an abundance of caution, were beginning to send the wrong message to certain segments of the public, they reconsidered those plans. That’s a good faith effort to try to make this weekend a success.
Here’s another reality that must not be ignored: Memorial Day weekend last year was not good. No matter who or what was to blame for the multiple shootings and a chaotic crowd, something had to be done differently this year. That’s why there are many more police officers and a new traffic pattern, among other changes. It would have been irresponsible for Myrtle Beach officials to have done nothing.
Do I have reservations about some of the plans Myrtle Beach put in place for this weekend? Yes. Do I agree with everything city officials have said and done? No. That doesn’t matter now, though.
Unity and hoping for calm and fun are more important than arguing about who’s right right now.
No one can predict everything, and no one can promise smooth sailing, as far as the way we are policed or the behavior of individuals in such a large crowd. But after a rhetoric-filled start to this process after last year’s events, many of the people in charge seem to have tried to get this thing right. I’m not sure we can ask for much more than that - except to make sure that city officials don’t dismiss out of hand issues the NAACP and others raise, based on what they observe and experience, before fully investigating them, particularly if they find incidents of police behavior that none of should be proud of.
We want tourists in the Myrtle Beach area this weekend to respect this place; we ask the same of law enforcement officials.
Oh, one more thing:
Myrtle Beach ambassadors, or Friendship Teams, are not - I repeat - not spies for the police. If you are from out of town, speak to them. They can help you navigate this area better than you can on your own.