Metro, Newton

Running Group Sues Newton Police Department for Discrimination During 2023 Marathon

TrailblazHers, a running club for women of color, sued the Newton Police Department (NPD) on April 11 for discrimination for treatment during last year’s Boston Marathon.

The group said its members had been watching the marathon around Mile 21 when Newton police officers singled them out and blocked them from the course.

“This culminated in NPD officers forming a human barricade to physically separate the running crews of color from the event,” the filing reads. “Similarly-situated white spectators received no such treatment.”

The group is also suing the Boston Athletic Association (BAA), which organizes the marathon.

According to the filing, police officers repeatedly yelled at the spectators to move back even though they were not obstructing the runners.

“NPD’s presence and conduct was creating apprehension, fear, and tension,” the filing reads. “NPD officers continued to harass and hassle this specific Black cheer area.”

The filing pointed to several instances where white spectators were not subject to the same level of policing, including a white woman and her child’s crossing of the course to hug a participant, and a white family’s placement of a balloon arch around Mile 15.

“In contrast to Plaintiffs’ cheer section, this area, comprising mostly of white spectators, lacked police presence or instructions to stay off the course,” the filing reads. “No one threatened or intimidated the white spectators to remove the obstructing balloon arch.”

NPD officers at the plaintiffs’ cheer zone said they had been responding to a complaint from the BAA, the filing says. 

After briefly leaving the scene, the NPD returned with approximately 20 officers on bikes, who formed a human barrier between TrailblazHers members and the course.

In the days following the incident, the BAA released a statement from Jack Fleming, the president and CEO of the BAA, apologizing for the treatment of the spectators. 

“It is our job, and we need to do better to create an environment that is welcoming and supportive of the BIPOC communities at the marathon,” Fleming said.

According to The Boston Globe, however, the NPD was unhappy with the statement, and the police chiefs said they would not help patrol the route for the 2024 race without an apology from the BAA.

Earlier this year, the BAA reportedly apologized to the NPD for how it had originally responded to the discrimination claims. 

TrailblazHers is being represented by Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR), which provides pro bono legal services for cases regarding the rights of communities of color and immigrant communities, according to their website.

“We focus on impact areas that represent the front lines in today’s battle for equality and justice,” their website reads.

In a press release, LCR Executive Director Iván Espinoza-Madrigal denounced the NPD’s behavior as “scary, triggering, and traumatic,” in the context of racial violence Black runners have experienced. 

“Overpolicing and hate crimes help explain why running remains a heavily white sport,” Espinoza-Madrigal said in the release. “Ahmaud Arbery, an avid Black jogger, was killed while running through a residential neighborhood in Georgia.”

April 21, 2024

Leave a Reply