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Black Running Group Sues Boston Marathon And Police, Alleging Racial Profiling

Although four of the last five Boston Marathon winners have hailed from Kenya, the race's organizers face a lawsuit declaring that it has not welcomed a diverse group of supporters during recent competitions.

TrailblazHers, a Black running group, is suing the organizers of the Boston Marathon and the Newton Police Department. Its lawsuit claims that the group’s members were racially discriminated against by members of the department at the Boston Marathon in 2023. 

As WMUR reports, the lawsuit, filed by lawyers from Lawyers for Civil Rights, alleges that members of the group were singled out and harassed by officers after a spectator fired a confetti cannon in the direction of a runner the group was supporting. According to the lawsuit, members of the group were allegedly penned in by law enforcement officers, while a group of white supporters were not bothered by the police. 

The Boston Athletic Association, which runs and organizes the marathon, issued two separate apologies following the incident in 2023. One apology, accompanied by a pledge to create a more inclusive environment at the race, was issued to TrailblazHers. Another was issued to the Boston Police Department after the latter made threats that they would not work the event.

Frances Ramirez, a co-founder of TrailblazHers, said in a statement released to the Boston Globe that BAA President Jack Fleming’s apology to the police was “completely backwards.” Ramirez also said that the apology indicates that the BAA agreed with the police’s actions. “They should be apologizing to us—the spectators of color who were racially profiled and harassed. The BAA clearly approved [of] the discrimination we experienced last year.”

Fleming acknowledged and downplayed the lawsuit in a statement issued on April 12. “I’m aware of the complaint,” Fleming said. “I have not had the opportunity to see it or read it. Our focus this weekend is on the 30,000 participants, all of the spectators, everyone coming into town.”

The BAA confirmed to the Boston Globe through a spokesperson that the Boston Marathon will have four more miles of barricades than they had in the race in 2023. A spokesperson also reiterated Fleming’s position on April 12.

“We are confident that the B.A.A. and our partners are prepared for a Boston Marathon that is welcoming to the 30,000 participants, spectators, and eight cities and towns along the route. We are focused on creating a joyous experience for all. While the B.A.A. is aware of the complaint, we have not yet had the opportunity to review it.”

Liz Rock, a co-founder of TrailblazHers, told the Boston Globe that she is disappointed by the lack of action from the BAA after its promise in the wake of 2023’s Boston Marathon. “I am deeply disappointed by the lack of attention that the BAA has given to our cause. Over the years, we have worked tirelessly to make running more accessible to BIPOC runners in Boston, and we expected the BAA to be a partner in this endeavor. However, their actions have not lived up to their words.”

Rock continued, “They claim to want to elevate diverse leaders in the sport, but they have consistently fallen short of this goal. Nevertheless, we are a determined group committed to making a fundamental change in this community. We will continue to push forward and work towards our mission despite the obstacles that we have faced.”

Oren Sellstrom, the litigation director for the Boston branch of Lawyers for Civil Rights, told CBS News that the issue at the heart of the lawsuit is the unequal treatment the group received. “The issue is not police presence at the marathon. The issue is unequal treatment.”

According to the lawsuit, “As the Boston Athletic Association (‘BAA’)…describes it, spectators ‘play a powerful role in fostering a sense of belonging and community for participants, volunteers, staff, and fellow spectators.’” The lawsuit also alleges that the BAA “does not extend that same sense of belonging and community back to all spectators equally.”

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