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Black Bikers Sue Myrtle Beach For Discrimination

Aired May 21, 2003 - 20:40   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Aside from its patriotic significance, Memorial Day weekend also means cookouts, baseball, the Indy 500. And along the South Carolina coastline it means the Atlantic Beach Bike Fest, a gathering of African-American motorcycle riders. But this year the rumblings aren't only from bike engines. The NAACP is suing the city of Myrtle Beach and some of its businesses for alleged discrimination.
Craig Williams is a plaintiff in the lawsuit. He is joining us from Washington along with his attorney, Paul Hurst. And in South Carolina is the mayor of Myrtle Beach, Mark McBride. Mr. Mayor, good evening. Thanks for being with us.

Detective, I'm going to go ahead and start with you. What's your gripe against Myrtle Beach?

CRAIG WILLIAMS, PLAINTIFF: Well, it's not necessarily a gripe. It's just an issue of wanting to be treated fairly. Equality is the only thing we're looking for in this.

KAGAN: And as I understand it, there's a weekend where there are basically predominantly white bikers that precedes your weekend where it's predominantly African-American bikers.

WILLIAMS: Correct.

KAGAN: And how would you gauge the difference in how the town treats the different guests?

WILLIAMS: Well, basically, when -- I usually typically stay in Myrtle Beach from Sunday to Sunday. When I arrive, you see a lot of the "Welcome Bikers" signs still hanging up, you see restaurants openly welcoming bikers in town.

Typically as the week goes on and black bikers begin to filter in you see these signs come down, you see the red carpet is rolled up, and it almost makes for an unhappy type of atmosphere.

KAGAN: Mr. Mayor, is that true? Do you see your city change from one weekend to the next?

MARK MCBRIDE, MAYOR, MYRTLE BEACH, SOUTH CAROLINA: No. We're looking for the safety of the visitors themselves. And also we have a crowd that exceeds 400,000 two years ago to a crowd that was only 200,000. And I know that the detective would share the same concerns if the city of Baltimore went from 650,000 residents to 12 million visitors for a three-day event. And it's just a matter of safety.

KAGAN: So just so I understand, Mr. Mayor, you're saying there is a difference in the weekends, but to you it's not because the crowd is made up of different racial makeup, it's a difference because the crowd gets so much larger? That's why you're saying it's different?

MCBRIDE: Absolutely. It has nothing to do with race. It's the fact of the matter the age groups.

Frankly, the first week they're Harley riders predominantly. Late 20s to the 60s, and they tire out and they go to bed by midnight.

The younger group, it's just like a college group, and they continue to go on and on and it becomes a three-day street party. And you know, their ages are late teens to the mid-30s. And we just have to address, you know, the different groups with the correct police force to make their visit safe.

KAGAN: All right. Detective, let's get your take on this as a law enforcement professional. If you do have a group that's twice as large and younger and more out of control, would you not expect a city to treat it differently?

WILLIAMS: You know, I understand being in law enforcement myself, I understand the tough disposition of officer safety first. OK?

But at the same time you have to almost have the same amount of officers for white bike week as you do for black bike week if it's an officer safety issue. OK?

KAGAN: But the mayor's saying that there's twice as many people there, that it's not just a racial situation, that you're talking numbers, you would need a lot more law enforcement officers.

WILLIAMS: And I'm trying to figure out exactly where the number is being computed from. I mean, if you look at white bike week, you typically have the Hell's Angels there, the Pagans there. And characteristically, we know what type of problems occur when these two groups come together. And as a matter of fact, something happened a couple years ago where an outbreak took place.

PAUL HURST, WILLIAM'S ATTORNEY: But also, Daryn, the crowds are the same between the two weekends. This is a tourist destination. Every summer the weekends there are crowded and packed with people. It's only during this weekend when the tourists in town are predominantly African-American do they change the traffic directions and implement three times the number of police in town. The crowds are...

KAGAN: Paul, just real quickly, tell me what the lawsuit is asking for.

HURST: The lawsuit is asking for this behavior to change, for the -- when African-Americans are in town that the city doesn't change its policies and practices, and make the African-Americans feel unwelcome and send them the message that Myrtle Beach does not want them there.

KAGAN: Mr. Mayor, what would you say? Are the black bikers welcome in Myrtle Beach?

MCBRIDE: Anybody's welcome in Myrtle Beach if you obey the laws.

I support -- you know, when you compare us to -- in the past there's been Freak Neek (ph) in Atlanta. They had 2,000 officers. Daytona Beach has Black College Reunion week. They have 2,000 officers. Frankly, we only have 550 officers. I would support more law enforcement.

You know, this week we had a city sanitation worker, he was endangered. There was a group of 12 riders riding down in excessive speeds doing wheelies. And one of the riders ended up, he was killed, he hit the back of the sanitation truck.

And it's just a matter -- it's a younger group, strong engines. These motorcycles, some of these motorcycles have speeds in excess of 200 miles an hour...

KAGAN: Mr. Mayor, will they be welcome in your city this weekend, Memorial Day weekend? Will they be welcome?

MCBRIDE: Absolutely. We welcome anybody to come to the city. But please obey our laws.

WILLIAMS: Daryn, if I could just add...


KAGAN: Very quickly. We're very short on time.

WILLIAMS: ... in that they had fatalities during white bike week as well. And we come this weekend from all different walks of life. Myself being law enforcement officer, my wife has been on attendance, she's a doctor. There are other plaintiffs in this lawsuit that are from corporate America. So we come from all different ages. It's not 16 and 17-year-olds down there celebrating.

KAGAN: We are wishing you all a good and a peaceful time in Myrtle Beach this weekend. Hopefully it will be a safe one. Mayor McBride and Detective Craig Williams, thank you so much for joining us. And Paul Hurst, your attorney. Appreciate your time.


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