Extra Security at “Black Bike Week” in Myrtle Beach, SC, Does Not Sit Well With Attendees

LaDonna Harris, right, a member of the AfroDogs Motorcycle Club, rode from Youngstown, Ohio. Photograph: Max Blau
LaDonna Harris, right, a member of the AfroDogs Motorcycle Club, rode from Youngstown, Ohio. Photograph: Max Blau

For more than two decades, thousands of African American motorcyclists have traveled across the nation to South Carolina, to attend the Atlantic Beach Memorial Day Bikefest. On the last weekend in May every year, the low hum of customized choppers with high-handle bars and the high-pitched revs of neon-painted street bikes have sounded out on Ocean Boulevard.

The 2015 Bikefest, however, was different. Ocean Boulevard, a two-lane commercial strip running parallel to the Atlantic Ocean, was partially closed. Hundreds of police officers enforced a one-way traffic pattern that clogged streets for miles and forced motorcyclists to idle in gridlock for hours. Much to the dismay of riders, pedestrians walked faster than bikes.

Outside the Sandy Beach Oceanfront Resort, Sean Robinson watched the stop-and-go traffic from the seat of his parked 2008 Harley Davidson, his arms crossed. For the sixth consecutive year, he had traveled five hours from Richmond, Virginia, to attend Bikefest, which is known to most attendees as “Black Bike Week”. He was upset with the way things had changed.

“I’ll never come again,” said Robinson, blasting Migos’ hit song Hannah Montana from the stereo of his bike. He said his group of friends spent more than $20,000 on lodging for a week-long stay, with little return.

“We’re spending a whole lot of money,” he said. “You can’t ride a Harley. You can’t move. It used to be open and you could go both ways, sideways, everything.”

An estimated 400,000 people were expected to travel to Myrtle Beach for the holiday weekend. But one week after nine people died in a white biker gang shootout in Waco, Texas, Myrtle Beach officials invoked public safety as they ramped up police presence and enacted their controversial traffic plan.

Last year, the vast majority of riders peacefully partook in Bikefest. But three people were shot to death and several others suffered gunshot wounds. South Carolina’s governor, Nikki Haley, called for city officials to end Bikefest for good. Local officials decided to keep Bikefest going, albeit with some drastic changes.

Law enforcement officers from more than 40 agencies and three states traveled to Myrtle Beach. According to Mark Kruea, Myrtle Beach’s public information officer, no shooting deaths occurred this year and only one person was injured in a shooting, at the Compass Cove Resort Hotel.

Kruea said three motorcyclists and one moped rider died in traffic accidents. Other riders filled local emergency rooms to capacity with non-fatal injuries. Several crimes occurred, including robberies and kidnappings.

“This isn’t anyone’s idea of a good time,” Kruea says. “Our staff has been working non-stop this weekend, literally around the clock, to try to keep everyone safe, keep traffic moving, respond to emergency calls, investigate crimes, clean up wrecks and generally keep the peace.”

But Alonzo Pritchard, a Memphis tire shop manager who attended Bikefest for the 18th consecutive year, said the city had sapped the life out of the gathering. For the first time, officials lined Ocean Boulevard with steel barricades. They also replaced the usual traffic pattern with a temporary 23-mile one-way traffic loop that forced all motorists and motorcyclists to circle the heart of Myrtle Beach.

“The pedestrian protections on the Boulevard worked well, as did the extended traffic loop,” Kruea said.

Barry James, a resident of Danville, Virginia, who attended for the 10th time, said the restrictions, compared with those in place for the 2015 Spring Harley-Davidson Rally one week earlier, which is held 15 miles outside of Myrtle Beach in Murrels Inlet, were troubling and intentional. The Murrels Inlet event attracted thousands of riders, most of whom were white. Minimal security and traffic measures were in place, James said.

“If you’re going to do it, keep it fair, do it the same way every time,” he said. “They’ve got to lift these barriers. We’re not locked up, we’re free, they’re got us restricted like we’re locked up and that ain’t right.”

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SOURCE: Max Blau
The Guardian

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