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Marathon incident between police and spectators highlights running’s diversity problem, some say

A photo provided by Pioneers Run Crew shows police apparently surrounding the area where members of two diverse running clubs were cheering during the Marathon.Dave Hashim/Pioneers Run Crew

Mike Remy knows what it’s like to be treated like an outsider. The longtime runner and triathlete, who creates YouTube videos to encourage other Black folks and people of color to participate in physical activities where there is little diversity, recalled being the only Black man in a crowd of white people.

“I pull up to a cycling event and you kind of get looked up and down and it’s like, ‘Are you sure you’re for A group? I think you’d feel more comfortable in C group,’ ” Remy said, referring to how cycling groups are divided by average speed. “It’s like, ‘Buddy, OK. I guess I’m going to have to bust ass today and let you know where I belong.’ ”


That’s why during Monday’s Boston Marathon, Remy showed up to join members of two racially diverse running clubs near Mile 21 in Newton to cheer hard for all runners, especially people of color, women, adaptive athletes, and members of the armed forces.

But the day of joy and celebration took a turn when, in events shown in Remy’s now-viral video, Newton police officers formed a line along the roadway to block the supporters from interacting with runners for a period of time.

The Newton Police Department said in a statement that it responded three times to requests from the race organizer, the Boston Athletic Association, to keep the members of the Pioneers Run Crew and the TrailblazHers Run Co. from obstructing runners on the course.

On Wednesday, Lawyers for Civil Rights filed a request to Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller and Newton Police Chief John Carmichael Jr., seeking records of all police incidents, reports, and surveillance activity along the Marathon route, as well as the race and ethnicity of anyone arrested. They also requested a meeting with Newton officials that would include athletes and spectators to discuss the “urgent underlying public safety and racial profiling concerns.”


The Pioneers Run Crew confirmed some members stepped onto the course to cheer on their friends, and videos show people launching small confetti cannons and running alongside marathoners with banners.

Spectators with two diverse running clubs at the Boston Marathon
This video provided by Mike Remy shows a member of the Pioneers Run Crew participating in what Remy says was a minimal disruption on the Marathon route.

But Remy and other spectators and runners told the Globe that it’s common for spectators to briefly enter the course to support friends and family members. Many felt disturbed by the BAA’s decision to call police, and by the scene of about a dozen police officers barricading a festive gathering of Black people engaging with runners the same way as many others.

“Let’s hold everyone to the same standard,” Remy said. “I just want to show up and be given the same respect.”

In Remy’s video, nine police officers can be seen lined up against the group with their bicycles as barricades, while at least three others on motorcycles are seen behind the crowd.

The BAA on Wednesday provided the same one-sentence statement as the day before: “The B.A.A. is committed to creating a safe and enjoyable experience for athletes, volunteers and spectators.” The organization did not respond to any questions, including whether it called the police for crowd control in any other instances.

“The military-style formation of the police officers is a concrete example and visual representation of the intimidation and over-policing of Black people,” wrote Tasheena M. Davis and Iván Espinoza-Madrigal of Lawyers for Civil Rights in their letter to the mayor and police chief. They wrote that the police’s position around the group “exacted an illegal seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment.”


The letter also urged the Police Department to review its Marathon tactics and its policies to root out racial discrimination, and issue an apology to runners and spectators.

Maine resident Maureen Milliken, who was a charity runner in the Marathon four times between 2005 and 2009, said spectators running onto the course to give kisses, high-fives, and water, or run along with their loved ones was “incredibly common.”

She recalled a time when a group of apparently drunk college students tried to offer her beer and even pulled her arm to try to make her run faster.

“There were cops there, I assume to monitor the course, and they did nothing,” Milliken said, adding that officers seemed annoyed when she complained. She said she has never seen any officials react to spectators on the course, even if security protocols may have changed since the 2013 bombing.

“It’s sad, because as a white woman, I was always struck at how overly white the runners and spectators were in a sport that could so easily be inclusive,” Milliken said.

On the 10th anniversary of the 2013 Marathon bombing, security was tight along the route. But videos posted on social media indicate the Pioneers and TrailblazHers members weren’t the only spectators stepping onto the course. A viral TikTok video showed one spectator offering a half-eaten doughnut to runners, and then running alongside the man who finally accepted it.


Leslee Parker-Sproul said she was in the area near Heartbreak Hill cheering on runners when she saw the group with members from the Pioneers and TrailblazHers.

“I was drawn to their energy,” Parker-Sproul said, describing a spirited crowd with banners and a DJ. “They were super-positive.”

Later, she said, she saw a large number of police officers crowd the area. Parker-Sproul said she and some others approached the officers to find out what happened. When they were told the reason was complaints about obstructing runners, Parker-Sproul told police she had just seen the same thing happen at Heartbreak Hill.

“What made me uncomfortable was how many police officers were used,” she said. “It’s such a unifying day in Boston. And it felt like a pretty divisive image on such a unifying day.”

Remy said that an officer had approached the group before the larger response, and that one of the group leaders was working to maintain order, clean up the confetti, and get people to leave the course quickly.

“We are runners,” Remy said. “We know what it takes to get here. . . . So why why would we intrude like that and get in anybody’s way? We’re only looking to uplift.”

In a sport with little diversity, Remy said it can make a huge difference for runners of color to see amped-up crowds of people who look like them.

“I’m always looking out and making sure I can connect with at least one or two people and expand the community. Let them know that yeah, we’re out here. You’re not alone out here,” he said.


Kim Urmaza, a friend of Remy’s who ran Monday, said “it was an amazing experience running past” the group at a point where runners had summited the last hill and were heading into the final stretch to Boston.

“That’s the type of energy that every runner looks for at that mile marker,” Urmaza said.

She added that she noticed another obstruction much earlier on the course, a balloon arch that marathoners ran through, as well as some people in parts of the route running in the opposite direction.

Remy said that after he posted his video to Instagram and YouTube, his comments section, typically a positive space for sharing ideas and support, “got really toxic, really fast.” He now worries the negativity will scare off people of color he was trying to inspire to join running, swimming, or cycling.

“ ‘This is the biggest event and that’s how people of color are going to get treated?’ ” Remy said he worries people may react. “ ‘Nah, man, thanks, but no, thanks.’ ”

Sahar Fatima can be reached at Follow her @sahar_fatima.