Explaining The Boston Marathon Mile 21 Lawsuit

A gloomy cloud hanging over the Boston Marathon, it's not all sunshine and unicorns

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For most, the Boston Marathon is a day full of positive vibes and celebrating accomplishments. However, for others, it can be the trigger to painstaking legal dealings.

Enter the Mile 21 lawsuit.

The Mile 21 lawsuit refers to a legal action taken by TrailblazHers Run Co., a Black-led running group in Boston, against the Boston Athletic Association (BAA), the city of Newton, and the chief of police of the Newton Police Department. 

The lawsuit was filed following an incident that occurred during the 2023 Boston Marathon at mile 21. Mile 21 of the race falls within the city of Newton, hence why the city and its chief of police are involved.

Explaining The Boston Marathon Mile 21 Lawsuit 1
Photo Credit: TrailblzHers

“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,” Mirian Albert, senior staff attorney at Lawyers for Civil Rights, said in a statement. 

“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.”

During the marathon, TrailblazHers organizers had set up a cheering station at mile 21, where more than 100 spectators, mostly people of color, gathered to cheer on the runners. 

However, according to the lawsuit, the Newton Police, under the direction of the B.A.A., allegedly engaged in racial profiling by targeting the spectators of color. 

The police reportedly formed a barricade separating the spectators from the race course, obstructing their view of the passing runners and preventing them from freely enjoying the event.

Mike Remy posted a video on YouTube from the incident in 2023, showing heavy police presence at mile 21.

When asked about the incident from their point of view, Newton police said in a statement, “After being notified by the B.A.A. three times about spectators traversing the rope barrier and impeding runners, the Newton Police Department responded respectfully and repeatedly requesting that spectators stay behind the rope and not encroach onto the course.”

“When spectators continued to cross the rope, NPD with additional officers calmly used bicycles for a short period to demarcate the course and keep both the runners and spectators safe.”

The lawsuit alleges that white spectators in other areas of the course were held to a different standard and did not result in police intervention. 

The lawsuit seeks to prohibit such discriminatory treatment at future Boston Marathon events and also demands an unspecified figure for damages. 

The B.A.A., in response to the lawsuit, has stated that they are focused on creating a welcoming and joyous experience for all participants and spectators of the Boston Marathon but have not yet had the opportunity to review the complaint in detail.

“We know what the Boston Marathon means to our communities; it is very personal to so many of you. We know that everyone who participates loves to celebrate the excitement of the race, whether you are an athlete, volunteer, spectator, or supporter,” the B.A.A. said in a statement.

“However, this year, we know that we did not deliver on our promise to make it a great day for everyone. We met with two groups last night, who the B.A.A. proudly supports in their running activities, their members, and their mission — PIONEERS Run Crew and TrailblazHers Run Co. – two of Boston’s premier clubs for BIPOC runners.”

“They expressed to us their deep concerns that they were not given the chance to enjoy the day and celebrate their friends, families and all participants as they approached Heartbreak Hill – that is on us. 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.”

Remy appreciated the BAA’s response but says that it’s not the end of the matter: “It’s a step. It’s definitely a step. An appreciated step. It can’t be the final step. I also appreciate taking the time and care to do things the right way.”

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Jessy has been active her whole life, competing in cross-country, track running, and soccer throughout her undergrad. She pivoted to road cycling after completing her Bachelor of Kinesiology with Nutrition from Acadia University. Jessy is currently a professional road cyclist living and training in Spain.

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