Black Running Crew Files Discrimination Lawsuit Against Boston Marathon

Racial Justice


Lawsuit Seeks to Prevent Repeat of 2023 Racial Profiling Incident

Seeking to forestall a repeat of the racial profiling incident that occurred at the 2023 Boston Marathon, a prominent Black-led running group filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against the Newton Police Department (NPD) and the Boston Athletic Association (BAA), asking the court to enjoin racial profiling and harassment against the running group and its members. The lawsuit, filed by Lawyers for Civil Rights on behalf of TrailblazHers Run Co., also seeks redress for emotional distress and trauma caused by last year’s racial profiling incident

Last year, on Marathon Day, TrailblazHers set up a cheering section at Mile 21 of the marathon course in Newton with more than 100 spectators, most of whom were people of color. Like hundreds of other groups drawing thousands of spectators along the 26-mile course, TrailblazeHers gathered with food, music, signs, and confetti to cheer on their fellow runners. TrailblazeHers sought to build community and celebrate the joy of the Boston Marathon just like everyone else.

What ensued was alarming: multiple hours of police barricades, surveillance, harassment, and escalation, when the NPD – upon BAA request and approval – targeted the Black spectators and formed a human barricade separating them from the course. Police physically separated the Plaintiffs and their members from runners, obstructed their view, and prevented them from seeing passing runners. Additional NPD officers on motorcycles stationed themselves behind the spectators, effectively penning in the people in the cheer zone of color. The Black running crew and its members were surrounded by police with officers refusing multiple attempts at de-escalation. 

White spectators in nearby locations who engaged in the same celebratory activities – considered standard for Marathon Day – received no BAA or police response. They were permitted to enjoy the public event in peace. Meanwhile, Black spectators were overpoliced and targeted for expressions of joy and cheer that are part of marathon culture and tradition.  

“Overpolicing and hate crimes help explain why running remains a heavily white sport. Ahmaud Arbery, an avid Black jogger, was killed while running through a residential neighborhood in Georgia. What happened at Mile 21 in Newton is scary, triggering, and traumatic for people who are repeatedly victimized just for running while Black,” said Iván Espinoza Madrigal, Executive Director of LCR.   

Liz Rock, founder of TrailblazHers, expressed: “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. 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.”

Frances Ramirez, founder of TrailblazHers, said her group was particularly alarmed to learn recently that the BAA had secretly apologized to police officers for last year’s incident. “That is completely backwards,” she said.  “They should be apologizing to us – the spectators of color who were racially profiled and harassed. The BAA clearly approved the discrimination we experienced last year.” She added: “BAA CEO Jack Fleming’s lack of acknowledgement of the Boston Running Collaborative, a collective of BIPOC running crews and leaders of Boston that the BAA created, during a recent news interview was insulting and degrading to the work we have done together.”

TrailblazeHers was formed to increase diversity in Boston’s largely white and elite running community. The group’s membership totals more than 2,500 BIPOC runners. TrailblazeHers creates space and safety for BIPOC runners to increase physical and mental wellness. 

“Our main priority is ensuring the mental, physical, and emotional well-being of our runners and all participants. When the topic of safety arises, it’s crucial they consider all its dimensions, not just the physical aspect. The suggestion to ‘decorate your barricades’ is emblematic of privilege, power, and a disregard for the issues we’re addressing,” explained Abeo Powder, founder of TrailblazHers. “Our celebrations don’t jeopardize safety. Our celebrations are safety. Yet it’s disheartening that advocating for our rights can impact not just our own well-being but also that of those close to us,” she lamented. 

As the 2024 Boston Marathon approaches, and in the absence of any meaningful action that would guarantee the safety and dignity of BIPOC runners and spectators at the Boston Marathon, LCR is standing with the runners to hold the NPD and BAA accountable for their actions.

“Today, we send a clear message to the BAA and to all police departments along the Marathon route: the law does not tolerate racial profiling,” said Mirian Albert, Senior Staff Attorney at Lawyers for Civil Rights.  “We are prepared to seek immediate court intervention if BAA or local police engage in the type of discriminatory conduct that spectators of color endured last year in Newton.”

The case, TrailblazHers Run Co., et al. vs. Boston Athletic Association, et al., was filed late yesterday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts in Boston.  

Click here to download the complaint.