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Is There Discrimination In Traffic & Safety Plans?

In December 2020, it was reported by the AP that the Myrtle Beach Traffic Plan used for the Atlantic Beach Bike plan was alleged to be racist.    For those that live in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, May offers separate week-long rallies, one mostly in the south part of the beach, the other mostly in the north part of the beach.  Each brings millions of dollars, spent by hundreds of thousands of bikers.  If you live in Myrtle Beach you love the tourism, just not the traffic.

Now, some “civil rights lawyers” have accused the city in federal court of racial discrimination by creating an experience so unpleasant that Black visitors will eventually go away. In opening arguments in December to five Black and four white jurors, an NAACP lawyer said Myrtle Beach during Bikefest is “like a city under martial law,” The Sun News of Myrtle Beach reported.  City attorneys have countered that “different traffic control strategies” apply to each festival, and that the police response to Bikefest was imposed to prevent violence following a spate of shootings and robberies six years ago.  Three people were killed and seven injured that weekend in 2014. Then-Gov. Nikki Haley called for getting rid of the Black event altogether, calling it a “pollution of South Carolina.”

Bikefest originated along historically segregated beaches, where white bikers had congregated as early as 1940 for the annual Harley Week. Around 1980, a local Black motorcycle club called the Carolina Knight Riders started holding a family-and-friends gathering at Atlantic Beach, a hamlet just north of Myrtle Beach known as the “Black Pearl” for its reputation as a haven for African American beachgoers.  The Atlantic Beach event soon sprawled into nearby towns, including Myrtle Beach, where most of the 35,000 residents are white. Organizers say it’s the single largest yearly influx of Black visitors to the area, and like Harley Week, it has grown far beyond any one group’s ability to control it.

Myrtle Beach, always struggling to promote South Carolina’s Grand Strand as a family-friendly upscale destination, tried to push bikers out with helmet requirements and noise ordinances, only to be taken to court by white and Black bikers alike. The city also lost to the NAACP when a federal judge said its early-2000s Bikefest traffic plan was racially motivated; that one forced riders into one-way traffic for 5 miles (8 kilometers).  Encountering unfriendly shopkeepers and officers has become part of the Bikefest experience, said bikers interviewed by The Associated Press. The NAACP has sued accusing restaurants and a hotel of discriminating against African American tourists during the event, just as it has challenged authorities in other tourist destinations where Black visitors say they’ve suffered abusive policing.

The lawsuit alleged that participants in Black Bike Week are trapped in a 23-mile traffic loop and that they have seen a militaristic police presence that is implemented by the city of Myrtle Beach and the Myrtle Beach Police Department.  When the trial concluded,   the jury found that the NAACP had proved “by a preponderance of the evidence that race was a motivating factor in the Defendant’s official actions regarding Black Bike Week.  However, the jury found the city of Myrtle Beach had proved “by a preponderance of the evidence that it would have made the same decision anyway, even if it had not considered race in its official actions regarding Black Bike Week,” according to court documents.  Therefore no compensatory damages were awarded to the plaintiffs.

The Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce just announced that Myrtle Beach was the number one destination for minorities on the East Coast.  Meanwhile, the Atlantic Beach Bikefest just commenced in Myrtle Beach on Memorial Day Weekend and there was no traffic loop in effect for 2021.  Even with litigation and threats of additional legal action Myrle Beach and Atlantic Beach, still know how to show proper Southern Hospitality to our guests.   Sometimes level heads prevail even over legal threats and press releases.

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