MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) – The City of Myrtle Beach has filed a response denying many of the allegations in the lawsuit filed against them and the Myrtle Beach Police Department by the NAACP last month that claimed discrimination against African-American tourists during Memorial Day Bikefest, also known as "Black Bike Week."
The lawsuit filed by the NAACP alleged 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."
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 city's response denied that no formal traffic plan was in place during Harley Week, stating that, "Different traffic control strategies are always in place and any special events occurring during the alleged Harley Week would have to comply with the City's special events ordinances which include approved traffic plans."
The city's response also states that the traffic control strategies put in place during Bikefest are not "rigid plans," and as an example, in 2017, the traffic plan was changed after two days "to better serve the public's need for safety, law enforcement and control." The traffic loop was postponed on Sunday, May 28, 2017 due to weather.
The city also denied several of the NAACP lawsuit's allegations about the traffic loop, saying that the traffic loop restrictions would not cause a drive down Ocean Boulevard to take as long as five hours.
The NAACP complaint also alleged 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.
The city's response denied that there are different levels of law enforcement in the city, and that the "City fully enforces its laws to the best of its ability at all times." The city said they seek to make "'Black Bike Week' sufficiently safe for all visitors."
The city's response denied they have discriminatory policies in connection with Black Bike Week, denies they have deprived the NAACP of their rights to equal treatment and full protection under the law, and denies that the NAACP is entitled to declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as compensatory damages.
The city's response then recounted allegations made in the NAACP lawsuit about Harley Week and the history of Black Bike Week, and denied many of them, or states there is not sufficient information to admit or deny, and therefore denies them.
Among the claims the city denied: that former Mayor Mark McBride demanded greater police presence, or the presence of the National Guard during his term as mayor, from 1998 to 2005. They denied that his efforts were successful, or that the city created a hostile and intimidating environment during Bikefest.
The city's response goes on to address a similar lawsuit filed against the city by the NAACP in 2003, also alleging differential treatment of the predominantly African-American attendees of Black Bike Week.
"Defendants deny the allegations and would further allege Judge Wooten's order speaks for itself," the response states. The response admits that a settlement agreement was reached between the city and the NAACP.
The city then addressed the 2014 Bikefest and subsequent Bikefests. The response denies that the city spurred the creation of the "Bikefest Task Force," and contend that it originated with the Coastal Alliance, an association of mayors throughout the county. The city said the task force was a response to the nine shooting incidents that occurred during the 2014 Bikefest, and was partly spurred directly by then-governor Nikki Haley.
The city denied that the traffic loop put in place in 2015 was far more restrictive or created substantially greater difficulties for attendees than previous plans, or that it was more onerous than that plan at issue in the 2003 litigation. The city denied that the loop creates unreasonable delays and undue convenience, or that it increases traffic load on affected streets.
The city did admit that they installed barriers between the sidewalk and the road along a portion of Ocean Boulevard, but denied that it interferes with pedestrian access during Bikefest.
The city admitted that significantly more police are deployed during Memorial Day Weekend than during any other time, but denied that the police engage in significantly more aggressive tactics at this time. The city admitted that in 2017, about 800 police officers policed Black Bike Week throughout Horry and Georgetown counties, but denied that the city has the area "overwhelmed with police officers," or that law enforcement harassed Black Bike Week visitors. The city also denied that officers used gridlock resulting from the traffic plan to over-enforce and scrutinize those in the traffic loop.
The city denied the existence of efforts to undermine Black Bike Week.
A full version of the city's response to the NAACP lawsuit is below.
A scheduling order in this case states that the next court action will be a conference of the parties involved on April 5, 2018. If the lawsuit does go to a jury trial, it is currently scheduled for December 11, 2018.