Myrtle Beach will pay NAACP $50000 to settle Black Bike Week spat

MYRTLE BEACH — Saying that it is in the best interest of both parties to “resolve the controversy and to avoid continued and costly litigation,” the NAACP and the city of Myrtle Beach have agreed to a settlement, ending a lawsuit the civil rights group filed in 2018.

The NAACP claimed that Myrtle Beach and its police department discriminated against African American tourists when “they imposed a burdensome 23-mile traffic loop on Ocean Boulevard” during the annual Myrtle Beach Black Bike Week, the 2018 lawsuit said.

The group alleged the city discriminated on the basis of race against the attendees of the event, while the city denied the allegations and defended the traffic plan as a necessary and reasonable way to ensure public safety, according to court records.

Each year during the month of May, two separate motorcycle rallies are held, both bringing thousands of visitors to the Grand Strand.

During the middle of the month, the Myrtle Beach Bike Week Spring Rally, or “Harley Week,” is held; two weeks later, over the Memorial Day weekend, motorcycle enthusiasts gather for Atlantic Beach Bikefest, or “Black Bike Week.”

The traffic loop has been in place since a spate of shootings rocked the city during the 2014 Bikefest and led then-Gov. Nikki Haley to call for an end to the event.

A jury found in favor of the city in December 2020 after a weeklong trial in Florence, saying that while race played a part in how it conducted Black Bike Week, the city would have taken the same actions if race was not considered.

The NAACP shortly after filed a motion requesting a court to amend its decision, allowing Myrtle Beach to continue the use of traffic loops in the future.

On Aug. 18, both parties participated in a court-ordered mediation before U.S. Magistrate Judge Mary Gordon Baker, agreeing to a settlement that was filed on Oct. 6.

In it, the city agreed to pay $50,000 to the NAACP within 30 days.

Also, in the terms of the settlement, the city will collect data including traffic, emergency response times, crowd sizes and crime statistics during busy summer weekends, including Harley Week, Black Bike Week, Memorial Day weekend, July Fourth weekend, the last weekend of July, the first weekend of August and Labor Day weekend.

The city will make the data public within 60 days after Labor Day each year beginning in 2022 and continuing through 2025, the agreement said.

Within 60 days of the settlement, the city agreed to hire a traffic planning expert and a public safety expert who will provide a report with their recommendations for developing operations plans that will “effectively address the traffic and public safety issues created by Black Bike Week,” the agreement said.

The city agreed to give its Human Rights Commission the authority to advise and provide feedback to all city officials with responsibilities related to operation plans for Black Bike Week starting in 2022 and continuing annually at least through the summer season of 2025. The NAACP is allowed to select someone to serve on the commission with 30 days of the agreement.

City Council will vote on the selection during an open meeting. If the nominee is voted down, the NAACP can substitute another person.

The city also agreed to hire a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer within 90 days of the settlement. The officer’s role is to assist the Human Rights Commission and the other expert consultants hired, as well as provide public assess the reports, data and other documents related to the summer operations plans.

The NAACP and the city also agreed to prepare a joint press statement that “addresses the settlement, Black Bike Week relative to other busy weekends, the Parties’ intent to work together in the future to ensure that the operations plans for Black Bike Week are fair and equitable, while also observing the right and authority of the City to police in a manner that best protects public safety and promotes good order.”

The original dispute started in 2003 when the NAACP filed a lawsuit over Myrtle Beach’s traffic plan during bike week. The case was ultimately settled, with Myrtle Beach agreeing to a consent order requiring them to “maintain similar operation plans” for Black Bike Week and the Harley festival for a period of five years.

The NAACP claimed that Myrtle Beach “resumed its differential treatment of the motorcycle rallies” after the order expired, leading to the 2018 lawsuit.