MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) – The NAACP has filed a race discrimination lawsuit against the City of Myrtle Beach and the Myrtle Beach Police Department, claiming discrimination against African-American tourists during Memorial Day Bikefest, also known as "Black Bike Week."
The lawsuit filing was announced during a news conference Tuesday morning, alleging there are "stark differences in the treatment of African-American bikers during Black Bike Week compared to the treatment of majority-White bikers during Harley Week."
Watch the full news conference here:
The complaint states that the City of Myrtle Beach imposes no formal traffic plan during Harley Week, which typically occurs the week before "Black Bike Week." For the last several years, the City of Myrtle Beach has imposed a 23-mile traffic loop during the weekend of Black Bike Week, forcing traffic to travel in one direction between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m.
The complaint also alleges that the city "deploys far more police officers during Black Bike Week than Harley Week and that the police officers utilize overly aggressive policing tactics against African Americans." The NAACP believes this is done to make Black Bike week "sufficiently unpleasant" for the mostly African-American motorcyclists, and is done as an attempt to deter these tourists and bikers from visiting Myrtle Beach.
"All citizens are entitled to equal protection under the law and have the rights of expression, assembly and association," said NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson. "The City's traffic plan and overly aggressive policing tactics during Black Bike Week violate those fundamental constitutional rights. The Association will continue to use the courts to fight such blatant discrimination."
A news release from the NAACP states that they successfully challenged Myrtle Beach's previous traffic plan in 2003. In 2005, the district court granted the NAACP's motion for a preliminary injunction, finding that the differences in traffic plans between Black Bike Week and Harley Week were likely motivated by race, a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Following that decision, a settlement agreement was entered, requiring the city to impose the same traffic plans for both weeks. That agreement expired in 2015, and according to the news release, that's when the city began to impose the 23-mile traffic loop.
"The Court found that the earlier plan was likely motivated by race and now just a few years after the consent order expired, the City has come back with an even more restrictive plan; it is clear that the City is once again discriminating against the African Americans who attend Black Bike Week," said Reed Colfax of Relman, Dane & Colfax PLLC, which represents the Plaintiffs.
Representatives for the NAACP argued that Black Bike Week is the only time of year when the majority of tourists are African-American, and it is the only time when the city and police impose "such an obtrusive traffic plan for tourists."
Sam Cox the President of the Carolina Knight Riders who started Black Bike Week in Atlantic City in 1980 was at the press conference. He told WMBF News, "It doesn't make you feel good, it's not something you are proud of, it's something that I don't know how to describe it for other people, but for us its aggravating because we all want to get along." Cox said he hopes the city will listen to everyone's plea. "Listen to what the people are saying, what everybody is saying, it's not a black thing or white thing," stated Cox.
Anson Asaka, the NAACP National Office Associate General Counsel said during the presser, "The one time in the year where the majority of tourists in this city are African Americans it's not imposed during Harley week, it's not imposed during spring break, it's not imposed during the Fourth of July, it's not imposed during the country music festival."
Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune, City Spokesman Mark Kruea, and City Manager John Pederson all said they can't comment on pending litigation.