I have used this space a number of times over the years to complain about noise levels in the Holy City — loud mufflers, loud music, loud trucks, loud motorcycles, whatever. Noise in the city threatens not just our quality of life, but our very health.
Studies have linked excessive noise to health problems, including loss of hearing, hypertension, sleep disturbance, irregular heartbeat, headache, forgetfulness, depression, even death. Judging from recent letters to the editor and stories that have appeared in The Post and Courier, I am not the only one who is tired of Charleston's official indifference to noise.
There is occasional evidence that the city is getting serious about this problem. There was a crackdown on some loud house parties around the College of Charleston campus last year. And the livability court is taking a look at a loud HVAC system downtown that has neighbors grinding their teeth.
This time of year, we have an additional source of noise and annoyance. I refer, of course, to motorcycles. For years there have been two huge motorcycle rallies in Myrtle Beach during the month of May, and each year thousands of bikers take a day trip down U.S. 17 to the Holy City, where they spend a day ripping and roaring around our streets and generally making nuisances of themselves.
Myrtle Beach finally took steps a couple of years ago, passing a raft of laws to pull in the welcome mat and send the bikers packing. It seems to be working. Numbers were down considerably this year. Unfortunately, too many of them came here. Even more unfortunate was the way the city responded to them.
The police and city fathers apparently felt that the good people of Murray Boulevard, along the Battery, deserved to be protected from the sound of the choppers. Police placed signs at both ends of the boulevard, reading, "Noise Ordinance Enforced." A third sign said, "No Revving Engines." An empty police car was left on the east end of the boulevard to help make the point.
The only point I got from the exercise is that law enforcement in this town seems to be a function of who you are and where you live. If you live in a multimillion-dollar waterfront house (and maybe have Mayor Joe Riley's cell phone number on your speed dial), you get protected from the sound of roaring motorcycles. Otherwise, you are at the mercy of these public nuisances.
I tried to contact police department spokesman Charles Francis, but he did not return my phone message or the written message I left for him at the front desk of the station. If he had, I would have asked him several questions.
First, why did Murray Boulevard get so much special law enforcement over the period of the motorcycle rally? (I think I know the answer, but I would have loved to hear Francis explain it.)
Second, what could I do to get some of that law enforcement on Rutledge Avenue? (Again, I think I know the answer.)
And finally, I would have asked him if Charleston's finest actually ticketed or arrested any noise ordinance violators while those warning signs were in place.
No bikers were cited for noise violations in 2007 and 2008, according to a Freedom of Information Act request I filed in June of 2008. This tells you how serious the city is about controlling motorcycle noise. Apparently, they could not find a single biker violating the ordinance when tens of thousands of them were in town.
But someone on Murray Boulevard was able to convince Mayor Joe or Chief Greg Mullen that their street needed special protection — and they got it. Of course, Rutledge Avenue, which I proudly call home, sees much more traffic each day than Murray Boulevard, but there aren't many millionaires in my neighborhood. In fact, I don't know a single one.
For years, blacks have complained that they don't receive the police service that other sections of the city receive. I had no specific reason to accept or reject that claim, but now I am inclined to believe it. The recent hard line on noise enforcement along Murray Boulevard is ample evidence that who you and where you live affects the quality of law enforcement you are likely to receive.
Charleston has historically been one of the most socially and economically stratified cities in the country. Those sharp lines have softened in recent years, but the special treatment of Murray Boulevard is proof that when it comes to the old ways, some just won't die.
See Will Moredock's blog at charlestoncitypaper.com/blogs/thegoodfight.