Members of two racially diverse running clubs say the groups were singled out Monday during the Boston Marathon when police appeared to surround them along the course in Newton where they’d gathered to cheer on runners.
A leader of the Pioneers Run Crew, Aliese Lash, said some members of the club would occasionally jump onto the course to cheer on runners or friends as they passed by Heartbreak Hill, around mile 21. A video shared online Monday showed a line of officers on bikes acting as a barrier for that stretch, between the race course and members of the Pioneers and TrailblazHers Run Co. running clubs. At one point in the video, other officers on motorcycles can be seen behind the group.
THIS IS WHAT IT IS TO BE BLACK AT THE BOSTON MARATHON @bostonmarathon @teambaa #RunningWhileBlack #CheeringWhileBlack #BostonSoRacist pic.twitter.com/WVrXSMzXrU— Alison Mariella Désir (she/her) (@AlisonMDesir) April 18, 2023
“We were at Heartbreak Hill, but it was a different type of heartbreak,” Lash, a captain of the Pioneers, said Tuesday. “We want to experience the joy of running, the joy of the course, but yesterday was just so blatant that we weren’t welcome there.”
Newton Police said in a statement that they showed up after the Boston Athletic Association, which organizes the Marathon, called multiple times following reports that spectators were impeding runners. The BAA declined to directly address questions about the matter.
Lash said she is hoping to air her concerns with the association this week.
Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, the executive director for Lawyers for Civil Rights, said his organization had heard from at least a dozen runners and spectators.
“Law enforcement may patrol any segment of the Marathon line, but a concentration in an area where Black runners and spectators have gathered peacefully strongly raises the specter of racial profiling,” he said, adding that he was particularly concerned about the appearance that police officers at one point were on multiple sides of the group.
Lash said the Pioneers were having a cheer party — a cookout with a grill, a DJ, a confetti cannon, and all the literal bells and whistles. She said the group had about 40 members running Boston and that their actions to cheer on those runners are common. Pioneers formed in 2017 to counter the lack of diversity in the Boston running community, according to its website.
“What happened was something that we do for every runner for every marathon every time we’ve been to a marathon,” Lash said. “We have never had a problem doing that.”
She acknowledged that she and the other fans, as runners themselves, are aware that the rules bar non-entrants from running onto the course, and she knew authorities would be “hypervigilant” on the 10th anniversary of the deadly bombing at the finish line.
“But there’s people along the entire course who do the same thing,” Lash said. “It’s so common for people to support their runners. But for some reason we do it and it’s not OK for us to do it.”
Newton Police said in a statement that the officers were dispatched after “being notified by the BAA three times about spectators traversing the rope barrier and impeding runners.”
A Newton police spokeswoman said the group was asked to stay behind the rope and that “NPD with additional officers calmly used bicycles for a short period to demarcate the course and keep both the runners and spectators safe.”
John Mortimer, a race director at Millennium Running, said there’s a fine line in terms of race decorum.
Vocal and involved supporters are a huge part of running culture. “Runners love the attention and they love the support,” he said.
On the other hand, spectators running any real length of a race is “frowned on,” particularly at an event as big as the Boston Marathon.
The BAA did not answer questions about its policies for spectators on the course, or how many times it contacted police Monday.
“The BAA is committed to creating a safe and enjoyable experience for athletes, volunteers and spectators across all our events,” the association said in a statement.
Lash said multiple people have said to her that they don’t want to run Boston again.
“I don’t know if that’s the solution,” she said. “I just want to be able to celebrate.”
Sean Cotter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.Follow him on Twitter @cotterreporter. Sahar Fatima can be reached at email@example.com Follow her on Twitter @sahar_fatima.