MYRTLE BEACH — This resort city and its police force have broadly denied claims in an NAACP lawsuit that alleges policing and a traffic plan during a Memorial Day biker rally are discriminatory.
Myrtle Beach’s answer, filed Friday in federal court in Florence, denies claims that the city and its police department used policing and traffic management to scare away the mostly black attendees of Memorial Day Bikefest. It argues that the traffic pattern during the event is meant only for public safety and challenges the NAACP’s assertions about how the city handles the annual event, commonly known as “Black Bike Week.”
Myrtle Beach also asked that the court grant legal fees for defense of the lawsuit.
The rally started as a small gathering in nearby Atlantic Beach almost 40 years ago and has grown across the Grand Strand. It falls immediately after a Harley-Davidson rally in May, and the crux of the NAACP’s argument is that by treating the two events differently, Myrtle Beach is trying to discourage the African-American Bikefest attendees from returning.
The two events are different, however, in that Harley-Davidson attendees are older and attend events on the south and north sections of the Grand Strand, often choosing to cruise elsewhere than Myrtle Beach.
In its answer, the city denies that it has different levels of law enforcement during Bikefest, writing that “The city fully enforces its laws to the best of its ability at all times.” Hundreds of outside officers are brought to Myrtle Beach to help police during Bikefest, however, with 634 visiting last year.
Myrtle Beach also denied that its traffic pattern during Memorial Day weekend leads to gridlock and argued “such traffic controls are intended to keep traffic moving efficiently.”
But residents and business owners in the Myrtle Beach area have said they are deeply inconvenienced by the late-night traffic pattern, as some locals are trapped in their homes and many businesses close early to release employees before the loop is put in place. Drivers say getting caught in the loop can mean being stuck in traffic for several hours.
Mayor Brenda Bethune campaigned last year on creating a pass for locals or businesses to bypass the traffic pattern. She has since told the Post and Courier that the passes would not work.
“I did discuss that with the police department, and it’s not a viable option, because it puts more strain on them to manage that,” she said.
The NAACP’s suit is seeking damages for three individual plaintiffs who it claims were affected by the city’s 23-mile traffic loop, which is typically in effect from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. during the holiday weekend. The group also seeks an injunction to block the city from using the same traffic plan this year.
An earlier lawsuit filed by the NAACP in 2003 led to a temporary injunction against the city, which was then using a less extensive one-way traffic pattern on a portion of Ocean Boulevard.
But Myrtle Beach’s answer filed last week argues that an appeals court eventually vacated that injunction.
The city and the NAACP settled the earlier suit in 2006 and a settlement agreement with guidelines for policing was in effect until 2010.