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TrailblazHers, a Black-led running group, is suing the organizers of the Boston Marathon, as well as the city of Newton and the Newton police chief, over alleged racial discrimination that occurred in a cheer zone at last year’s race. The lawsuit, filed just days before the 2024 marathon, claims that the organizers, city, and police violated the plaintiffs’ Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection under the law. Newton police allegedly targeted and harassed spectators from TrailblazHers and other running crews that primarily serve people of color at Mile 21.

The lawsuit details that over a hundred spectators, mostly people of color, were gathered at Mile 21, organized by TrailblazHers as a significant marker where runners of color are acknowledged and celebrated. Specific acts of discrimination are alleged in the complaint, stating that non-White spectators were harassed by police and told to stay back while White spectators were allowed to interact and celebrate the runners. Police allegedly formed a human barricade to physically separate the running crews of colors from the event, while similarly-situated White spectators received no such treatment, creating a day of pain and humiliation for the plaintiffs.

Newton police responded to the incident last year by stating that they repeatedly requested spectators to stay behind the rope barriers and not encroach onto the course. The police chief, John Carmichael, defended the actions of the officers, stating that they acted appropriately, respectfully, and as expected. The Boston Athletic Association, the organizers of the marathon, said they were aware of the complaint but had not yet reviewed it, focusing on creating a joyous experience for all participants.

TrailblazHers participated in several meetings with the Boston Athletics Association and city officials to address the incident, but no meaningful reforms were enacted to prevent racial profiling and harassment from occurring again. The group, represented by Lawyers for Civil Rights, sees the police harassment at the marathon as part of a larger issue of racism in running, citing the 2020 killing of Black runner Ahmaud Arbery. Ongoing over-policing and hate crimes contribute to the lack of diversity in the sport of running, with people of color being victimized while running.

TrailblazHers was formed to increase diversity in Boston’s predominantly white and elite running community, with a membership of over 2,500 BIPOC runners. The group is prepared to seek immediate court intervention if the Boston Athletics Association or local police engage in discriminatory conduct similar to what spectators of color endured in Newton last year. The lawsuit seeks compensatory, punitive, and nominal damages, along with a jury trial. The group aims to challenge and combat racial profiling and discrimination in the running community, advocating for inclusivity and respect for all participants.

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