Not so long ago, I was the editor of The Folly Current, a small community newspaper on Folly Beach. Just before the paper shuttered its doors, a woman who lives near 10th Street began sending me photographs of the litter she found in the right-of-way around her home. Among these was a disgusting photograph of a bloody tampon. When I sent a reply questioning her repeated use of the word "terrorists" to describe the hordes of young people that gathered to drink and party on the public beach outside her home, she offered to try to capture a photograph of one of the many penises she claimed that she and her family were frequently exposed to in their own yard.
I get it. If I lived along 10th Street or rented a house there for my family, I'd probably be disgusted by the spectacle that occurs there almost every weekend.
When I saw the video of the incident this past Independence Day — featuring a drunken crowd shouting "U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!" as they cheered the tasing and arrest of a young man, one of six (not seven) young men arrested on the 10th block on the Fourth of July — I was appalled. Because of these patriotic drunkards, I won't be able to enjoy a cold Sierra Nevada Pale Ale while walking my dog on the beach at the Washout just outside my front door.
These buffoons aren't terrorists, but I fully agree that the atmosphere they create on the beach is far from "family friendly." Then again, Folly is not nearly as bad as most local media reports would have people believe. On July 4, I walked the beach from 14th block to 11th block. Yes, it was packed. It was Independence Day and that's to be expected.
Nearly every story The Post and Courier has published about the Independence Day incident, however, has referenced a letter from Mayor Tim Goodwin and Chief Brown in the June issue of The Sandspur, a city-funded monthly newsletter from the Folly Beach Civic Club. In the letter, the duo warn Folly Beach residents that people have been doctoring drinks with date-rape drugs on Center Street and selling crack cocaine and bath salts. This is where I begin to lament the loss of The Folly Current. We'd have followed up that letter in The Sandspur with an investigative story, one that gave the details of when and where these alleged crimes occurred. Instead, we're spoon-fed fear and given few facts.
I don't fault The Sandspur for simply running the letter, but The Post and Courier's repetitive references to it without ever offering more information about the allegations is disappointing. Chances are, like The Folly Current, the folks at The Post and Courier are working harder than ever for less and less compensation.
When it comes to the troubles on Folly, most people — those who support a ban and those who do not —can agree on two things.
One, over the last few years, Folly Beach has experienced a growth in the number of drunken, rowdy crowds that gather at 10th Street and in front of The Tides hotel. And two, due to the bad behavior of a few people — most of whom don't live on Folly Beach — an entire island of mostly well-behaved citizens is being punished by the loss of a much cherished, long-time privilege.
A friend of mine recently told me that he feels like she is back in third grade when the whole class is sent to lunch with the dreaded "assigned seating" because of the bad behavior of one or two students. However, I acknowledge that we have a problem: Exactly how do we curb the bad behavior of those two students without eliminating both their motivation and fuel (and in this case it's alcohol)?
Universal truth number one struck me a few months ago when a surfer friend of my roommate's commented that he supports a ban, stating bluntly that the people gratuitously boozing in front of our house give absolutely nothing back to the island. Three of the four houses around mine are vacation rentals, and from March to May, I watched one group of frat guys after another file in for a week of beer pong and cornhole, blaring a Pandora station that somehow has found a computer algorithm linking Kenny Chesney to Jay-Z.
Annoying as they are, I don't begrudge these dudes and their good time. I was in their shoes once and I'm eternally grateful to my neighbors for not calling the cops on my pals and me.
On the Fourth of July, however, we know that every year the inherent problems will be exacerbated on Folly Beach, especially at 10th block. Police Chief Dennis Brown has taken some flack for his handling of the situation this year. After the trash debacle two years ago, public attention and pressure led to a virtually trouble-free Fourth in 2011. This year, despite plenty of anticipation, disaster struck.
Dozens of partiers showed up on buses, and some have talked about banning buses from the beach as a solution. Really? We're going to discourage the people who take proactive steps not to drink and drive? Bad idea. Others have suggested a special "Folly" cup that drinkers would have to purchase in order to drink on the beach. Would that change anything? The best idea presented thus far may be a rubber wristband — something like $50 for an annual "red" color or $5 for a "blue" day pass — that allows the user to drink on the beach after signing a form that they've read and understand the rules of the beach. The money collected would be more than enough to pay for beach patrols, and police would retain the right to confiscate the bracelets from those breaking the rules and not sell them on holiday weekends.
Truth be told, we could have avoided the incident on July 4 if the police were able to enforce the law. Neither an open, pay-to-drink liquor bar and big speakers blaring dance music are legal on the beach. Chief Brown protests — rightfully so — that his 16 officers can't thoroughly patrol 50,000 people on a beach, even with five extra guys from the county helping out. They can certainly be proactive on 10th Street, however, where dance music was allowed to blare illegally for hours, drawing people into a thick crowd before a fight ever broke out. In the melee that followed, Brown says that rowdy beachgoers even tried to remove one of his officer's weapons.
Regarding the music, Brown says his officers "try to enforce it, if the music is loud or disruptive or has profanities." To his credit, I'm glad the beach patrols don't regularly stop next to sunbathing groups and demand that they turn off their iPod speakers. That would be overkill.
Brown says that his force conducted walkthroughs and sweeps at 10th block throughout the day, clarifying that the fighting broke out after he personally approached a DJ with a laptop and speakers about shutting down his music. It's just a thought, but a police tent set up smack dab in the middle of the 10th block scene at 8 a.m. might have certainly dampened the mood for "rioting."
However the 10th block ruckus went down (and let's stop calling it a riot — no windows were smashed, no fires were started, and no businesses were robbed), it sparked a public outcry and prompted an alcohol ban within days. Most of the outspoken people who attended City Council's meeting about the ban were in favor of it — to the point of booing and shouting whenever a councilmember or fellow citizen suggested anything other than a complete and total ban. Considering the vocal turnout in favor of a ban at last week's meeting, the 60-day ordinance is democracy in action, and council's decision was the right one. Still, it should not be regarded as final. Now is the time to talk about creative solutions to the issue — not solely in November, in the case that voters choose not to instate a total ban and leave council to find alternate solutions. It's "Problem Solving 101" and we need to begin now. If the 60-day ban shows results, perhaps a permanent ban is the right answer. In the mean time, the ban is certainly having a detrimental effect on local businesses like Bert's Market during its first week in action.
Plenty of Folly residents remained unaware of the change (or a problem at all) until the 60-day ban had been passed. There are now signs on street corners informing residents and visitors that drinking is illegal on the beach until September 10. The people that involve themselves in local government and read local media were the most informed, and they rightfully got the first stab at enacting and influencing new legislation to address the problem.
But now everyone knows. The alcohol ban will go to a popular vote on Nov. 6, and whatever the result, I'll support it. At the ballot box, however, I will vote against the ban, not because I like having drunken idiots on the beach outside my house, but because I don't want another right stripped away from me, even if it's one I rarely utilize. It's far more difficult to get a privilege back than to take it away.
When deciding your take on the booze ban debate, it's important to recognize three forces at odds on Folly Beach: homeowners, business owners, and renters. Homeowners understandably want their property value to rise, and they think that fewer drunken crowds will help, but that causes a dilemma. When Folly Beach renters can no longer purchase a home in the place where they live, the city graduates from a bohemian "come one, come all" community to a resort and "wealthy-welcome-only" enclave, of which Charleston already has several. Although some business owners see "no drinking on the beach" as "more drinking in my bar," that's a false assumption. Bars are a volume-based business. The more people that are on the beach, the more people there will be in the bars. Ban alcohol on the beach, and bar business will stay the same or decline.
At last week's City Council meeting, former Mayor Bob Linville commented that Folly had died a few years ago and could now only be revived. That's overkill. Add up the summer Saturdays and holidays and you've got about 30 days each year with traffic and crowds. That leaves 88 percent of the year that Folly Beach is still a sleepy, locals-only community. Day-trippers are part of this island's fabric and have been for the better part of a century.
I could go on, but all this debate exhausts me. I need a drink — preferably outside, with sand between my toes.
Stratton Lawrence has lived on Folly Beach for five years — two years longer than anywhere else in his life. The waves, the birds and the unpretentious "anything goes" atmosphere led him to call the place home.