By Paul Gable
Myrtle Beach City Council passed first reading of an ordinance Tuesday aimed at controlling Atlantic Beach Bikefest crowds.
The ordinance can only be described as the result of an apparent collective mental breakdown on the part of Myrtle Beach city officials.
Supposedly for use during “extraordinary events”, the ordinance specifically names Memorial Day weekend as an extraordinary event, thereby establishing de facto martial law in Myrtle Beach for that weekend.
Among other things, the ordinance allows the city manager to close private businesses, require private property owners to employ private security, close public streets and makes the possession of a number of objects, some as innocuous as backpacks, coolers, bottles and pets, violations subject to arrest.
Taking a bottle of beer from a cooler while walking your dog, all in your own yard, could land you in deep trouble.
Although the ordinance enumerates various possible events and circumstances that could trigger its enforcement, Myrtle Beach city manager John Pederson told media he would not pretend the ordinance was not aimed at Memorial Day crowds. However, using it would only be for situations that could not be managed otherwise.
In the 11 months since last Memorial Day’s Atlantic Beach Bikefest, planning for this year’s event has evolved into showing an overwhelming police presence (nearly 600 more officers than last year), militarizing the police with armored personnel carriers, assault rifles, drones and riot gear and Myrtle Beach’s own martial law ordinance.
These are examples of the overreaction Atlantic Beach Bikefest brings to the minds of public officials, especially in Myrtle Beach.
This is an election year and this ordinance may play well among the core voters on the north end who keep reelecting incumbent Myrtle Beach City Council members.
Myrtle Beach officials normally do not have any problem tramping all over constitutional provisions. This “extraordinary events” ordinance certainly stretches any interpretation of the 4th and 14th Amendments beyond reasonable limits.
However, it seems city officials made a mistake in not also ignoring the 1st Amendment when crafting the ordinance.
If a goal for this year is to keep Myrtle Beach off the front pages of national media, city officials made a big mistake in drafting the ordinance – It does not ban cell phone cameras.
If this ordinance is implemented during Atlantic Beach Bikefest weekend, international media coverage of Myrtle Beach over Memorial Day Weekend could reduce the recent news coverage of the North Charleston police shooting to the status of a cartoon before the feature movie.
And was it just pure coincidence that this ordinance was passed one day after the final public meeting on this year’s Atlantic Beach Bikefest planning?