BIPOC running groups sue the BAA and Newton police for racial discrimination at 2023 Boston Marathon

Photo courtesy of JD/Creative Commons under CC BY 2.0

By Adam Nuñez

Lawyers for Civil Rights has filed a lawsuit against the Boston Athletic Association and the Newton Police Department after multiple instances of racial discrimination against BIPOC running groups during the 2023 Boston Marathon. The lawsuit alleges discriminatory behavior from local police against the TrailblazHers Run Co., made up predominantly of BIPOC women, at a popular cheering section of Mile 21 in Newton, Massachusetts, last year.

Filed Thursday, the complaint claims “neither the BAA nor NPD enacted any meaningful reforms to prevent racial profiling and harassment from happening again.” The lawsuit comes after Newton police formed a human barricade around cheering members of TrailblazHers Run Co. and PIONEERS Run Crew after they allegedly stepped on the track in a widely publicized incident last year. According to the lawsuit, the cheering spot “holds immense significance” for BIPOC runners “as it stands as a key place where runners of color are acknowledged and celebrated.”

“Around 12:30 P.M., a spectator of color joyfully celebrated by launching a confetti cannon as a known runner passed the Mile 21 cheer zone.” The complaint reads, “In response, an NPD officer, Paul Boyle, immediately approached. The officer fisted the front of the spectator’s shirt, demanded identification, and threatened an arrest for allegedly running in the course.” NPD officers stayed on scene and continued to “yell and instruct spectators in TrailblazHers’ Mile 21 cheer zone to move back, even though no one was obstructing runners.”

In response, founders of TrailblazHers and Plaintiffs in the case Abeo Powder, Elizabeth Rock and Frances Ramirez communicated with the BAA to call off the police presence.

“After a few minutes, NPD officers left the scene briefly.” However, only moments later, the suit says, “an even larger group of approximately twenty NPD officers on bikes reappeared and formed a human barricade along the course, physically separating the Plaintiffs and their members from runners.”

Several examples of white men and women acting in the same manner were not similarly handled by police during the 2023 marathon, as detailed by the case. Although publicly apologetic when news of the incident first broke, it is alleged the BAA has not attempted any meaningful change since to ensure the safety of BIPOC runners and spectators.

“In the end, neither the BAA nor NPD enacted any meaningful reforms to prevent racial profiling and harassment from happening again.” The filing concludes, “Indeed, on information and belief, BAA secretly apologized to NPD – sanctioning, ratifying, and effectively condoning NPD’s misconduct at the 2023 marathon in discriminating and targeting Plaintiffs at Mile 21.”

Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director for Lawyers for Civil Rights, told GBH Friday he hopes the lawsuit discourages similar discriminatory action from local police as BIPOC runners prepare to cheer once again at Mile 21 in Newton.