The tragedy of three young people gunned down in a Myrtle Beach motel over Memorial Day weekend deepens. The young people were part of the throng of African Americans who descend on the Grand Strand each year as part of the Atlantic Beach Memorial Day Bikefest. The event has clearly crossed the line from good fun and good taste to something close to nihilism. It's been headed in that direction for a long time.
Yet, long before it reached its current low, the good people of Myrtle Beach decided it did not like having thousands of black bikers in their town and went to extraordinary lengths to put them out. They ultimately got into some trouble with the NAACP and the U.S. Justice Department over the way Myrtle Beach police routed biker traffic on Ocean Boulevard and the refusal of some restaurants to open while the so-called Black Bike Week was in town. The legal slap-down only deepened racial resentments in a very conservative, very white town. Indeed, Horry County, with its 81 percent white population, voted 64 percent for Mitt Romney in 2012. Politicians have been demagoguing the Memorial Day Bikefest for years.
On the night of Sat. May 24 — the height of the weekend frenzy in Myrtle Beach — a series of shootings along Ocean Boulevard left three people dead and five wounded. It was a stunning tragedy. The three dead revelers were in their early 20s, two of them from Summerville, one from Ladson. All of the victims and all of the suspects in the shootings were black.
But the tragedy was about to turn to travesty. On Fri. May 30, Gov. Nikki Haley came to Horry County to assess and pronounce. Her verdict: the Atlantic Beach Memorial Day Bikefest must end.
"There are no revenues worth the bad press we got this past weekend," she told the Sun News. "There are no revenues worth the lack of companies that will come to this area because of what happened this weekend. There are no revenues worth the lack of tourism that we will lose because of what happened this past weekend. It is time for the Bikefest to come to an end."
Two observations here: First, to Nikki Haley, the deaths of three young people on Ocean Boulevard was largely an economic development issue. She barely mentioned the human tragedy, the loss to the families, the loss to the communities. But of course, she was not talking to African Americans. She was talking about them. And her intended audience knew it.
Secondly, neither Haley nor the General Assembly has any authority to shut down the Memorial Day Bikefest by fiat. The bikers, their friends, and groupies have every right to come to the Grand Strand any time they like. Nikki Haley probably doesn't know that, but every lawyer in America does.
You see, governor, there's a thing called the First Amendment. You may have heard of it. It comes just before the Second Amendment, which you and your GOP and NRA buddies love to talk about. It gives citizens the right to peaceably assemble. And to those citizens who choose to assemble unpeaceably, they should be treated exactly like any Second Amendment disciple who uses his gun to break the law — that is, they should be arrested and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. It's that simple. Arrest the lawbreakers and leave everyone else alone.
Or course, if Haley was really worried about the effect of violence on the state's image and economic development, she might call for tighter gun control laws. After all, South Carolina has the fifth-highest murder rate in the nation. But you know it will be a cold day in hell when a Republican politician calls for more gun control in this pistol-packing state. Violence is a social problem only when black people are committing it.
Violence does not seem to bother Gov. Haley when tens of thousands of mostly white people gather at Clemson and the University of South Carolina for hours of drinking, fighting, littering, and debauchery before football games each autumn. In recent years, there have been a killing, numerous fights, a sexual assault against a child among other unpleasantness at these massive tailgating parties, but no politician — not even Nikki Haley — would be foolish enough to try to shut down that tradition.
The governor's pronouncement on Black Bike Week was pure balderdash and hypocrisy, but it will surely play well with her base, especially in Horry County.
Take a little cue from your NRA cronies, governor: Bike rallies don't kill people. People kill people.
Will Moredock is the author of Banana Republic Revisited: 75 Years of Madness, Mayhem, and Minigolf in Myrtle Beach.