Gwinnett couple, NAACP sue for discrimination at SC ‘Black Bike Week’

A Suwanee couple has partnered with the NAACP to sue Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and its police department over the treatment of black attendees of an annual motorcycle festival.

Cedric Stevenson and Leslie Stevenson, of Suwanee; Simuel Jones, of Chicago; and the NAACP filed the lawsuit in a federal courthouse in Florence, South Carolina, on Feb. 27.

There are two motorcycle festivals held in Myrtle Beach each year. Bikefest, held during Memorial Day weekend, is often referred to as “Black Bike Week” because of its predominantly African-American attendees. Harley Week, primarily attended by white motorcyclists, is held in mid-May, before Bikefest.

The NAACP lawsuit claims that the city and Myrtle Beach police discriminate against the black motorcyclists who attend Bikefest by putting in place a strict traffic plan for riders. Vehicles that enter Ocean Boulevard, a beachside road that is popular with festivalgoers, must enter a 23-mile loop at night. That loop can take up to six hours to complete on a busy Saturday night during Bikefest, the NAACP said. No traffic plan is put in place for Harley Week, they claim.

Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune told the AJC she does not comment on pending legal matters. At a Feb. 28 city council meeting, she said that "public safety" was the city's top priority, according to the Sun News.

The Stevensons attended Bikefest in 2016 and were caught in the traffic loop “for hours” after leaving a restaurant, the lawsuit says. Later during the festival, they left a restaurant without eating because they were afraid that they would get caught in the loop again, and their fear of getting caught in the 23-mile route dictated their actions for the remainder of the festival, according to the lawsuit.

The Stevensons were at the festival with Leslie Stevenson’s 70-year-old mother, and they did not want to leave her alone for an extended amount of time, so they decided to only go to restaurants and attractions that were within walking distance of their hotel. They “felt humiliated and frustrated” because the traffic loop forced them to restrict their activities.

“The City’s efforts are having the exact effect they are intended to have: making African-American bikers feel harassed, humiliated and unwelcome,” the lawsuit says.

The NAACP sued the city in 2003 over a previous traffic plan for Bikefest, and the U.S. District Court required the city to have the same traffic plans for Bikefest and Harley Week in a 2005 decision. That requirement expired in 2015, and a new traffic plan was instituted for Bikefest. The NAACP described that plan as “even more restrictive than the 2003 plan.”

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