NAACP files race discrimination lawsuit against Myrtle Beach for bike week traffic loop

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MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WBTW) – In a press conference held Tuesday morning in Myrtle Beach, the NAACP announced it is filing a lawsuit against the city for alleged discriminatory actions against “black tourists” during Memorial Day Weekend Bike Fest.

The Myrtle Beach Branch of the NAACP and three individuals filed a complaint alleging that the City of Myrtle Beach and the City of Myrtle Beach Police Department discriminate against African-American tourists.

The complaint includes a motion for preliminary injunction in U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina. The motion intends to stop the City of Myrtle Beach from launching the 23-mile traffic loop in the upcoming Memorial Day Weekend Bike Fest. Leaders say there is no reason to have a one-way traffic pattern on Ocean Boulevard when the majority of visitors are African-American.

The NAACP’s complaint states there are drastic differences between the two bike events held in the city in May. The lawsuit alleges that African-American bikers are treated differently during Black Bike Week, a title used by NAACP officials during the press conference, compared to the treatment of majority-White bikers during Harley Week. 

The complaint claims that the two events “attract a similar number of visitors to the Myrtle Beach area” but “…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.”

In a press release distributed by the NAACP, officials claim that the 23-mile traffic loop and police behavior discriminates against African-American visitors.

“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.”

The NAACP described the traffic pattern and police engagement as “insane” and “ridiculous,” claiming that the city brings in 10 times the number of law enforcement officers for Black Bike Week compared to the Harley Davidson event.

“Black Bike Week is the one time of the year when the majority of the tourists in Myrtle Beach are African American,” states the press release from the NAACP. “It is also the only time of the year when the city and police impose such an obtrusive traffic plan for tourists. Such tactics are noticeably absent during the weeks of Spring Break, or Fourth of July celebrations.”

The release goes on to say that in 2003, “the NAACP successfully challenged the [City of Myrtle Beach’s] previous traffic plan for Black Bike Week.” The release state that in 2005, the district court granted the NAACP’s motion for preliminary injunction, finding that differences in the traffic plans between Black Bike Week and Harley Week were likely motivated by race and in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. 

After the court’s decision, the NAACP and City of Myrtle Beach entered an agreement that required the city to impose the same traffic plans for Memorial Day Weekend Bike Fest as it did for Harley Week. That agreement expired in 2015, according to the release, which is when Myrtle Beach officials developed the new 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.

The complaint, which requests a jury trial, was filed Tuesday morning by the NAACP, Simuel Jones, Leslie Stevenson and Cedric Stevenson.

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