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District judge sides with Myrtle Beach on two claims in lawsuit over Bikefest

A district judge has sided with Myrtle Beach on two claims raised in a lawsuit over Bikefest.
A district judge has sided with Myrtle Beach on two claims raised in a lawsuit over Bikefest.(Source: WMBF News file photo)
Updated: Aug. 5, 2020 at 7:14 AM EDT
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MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) – A U.S. district court judge has sided with the city of Myrtle Beach on two claims made against it in a lawsuit surrounding the Atlantic Beach Bikfest.

RELATED: Myrtle Beach looks to have NAACP Bikefest lawsuit dismissed in new court filing

The NAACP filed the suit in February 2018. It accuses the city and police department of implementing policies that discriminate against the mostly African-American attendees of Bikefest, which is also known as Black Bike Week.

They allege that participants in Black Bike Week are trapped in a 23-mile traffic loop and that they have seen a militaristic police presence that is implemented by the city of Myrtle Beach and the Myrtle Beach Police Department.

The NAACP argues that the same policies are not in place during “Harley Week,” where the majority of the attendees are white.

Last year, the city filed a motion for summary judgement, which is a request for the court to rule that the other party doesn’t have a case and that it should not go before a jury.

In her opinion, U.S. District Judge Sherri Lydon found in favor for the city on the claim that the traffic loop affects commerce, noting Myrtle Beach “would be working economic injury to itself by driving visitors away.”

“There can be no question that Bikefest, like any large gathering of people in a concentrated area for an event, creates substantial public safety concerns for the City,” Lydon wrote in her opinion. “The lack of evidence in the record on the issue of economic burdens or benefits renders unreasonable a conclusion that any such incidental burden on interstate commerce is ‘clearly excessive’ in relation to the Defendants’ interest in maintaining public safety during Bikfest.”

Another claim in the NAACP’s lawsuit is that the city’s actions during Bikefest violate their First Amendment rights. Lydon also sided with city leaders on this claim. She noted there is nothing in the record that attendees communicate “any particular position on issues of social, political, or cultural significance.”

“The predominant purpose of Bikefest reveals itself to be social in nature with an emphasis on riding motorcycles,” Lydon’s opinion states in part. “The City notes, and the Court agrees, that riding motorcycles is not protectable under the First Amendment.”

Lydon, however, denied the city’s request for summary judgment on the claim that the traffic loop, which first went into effect in 2015 following deadly shootings on Ocean Boulevard during the 2014 Bikefest over Memorial Day weekend, was based in part on race.

The judge noted the record contains several acknowledgments by city officials that the operations plan for Bikefest “was developed in part due to public outcry, and much of the public outcry in the record is racially inflammatory.”

“The record contains evidence of not one, but several dozen racially charged comments, none of which were dismissed, and some of which were arguably received favorably by City officials,” court documents state.

WMBF News has reached out to Myrtle Beach officials for comment on the court’s opinion, which can be read in full below.

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