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Were Black spectators unfairly policed at the Boston Marathon?

Newton police officers lined up bicycles between spectators and runners at mile 21. Some question whether the group was being unfairly policed

boston marathon police Photo by: Dave Hashim (@dhash)

A video showing police presence along a stretch of the Boston Marathon course has gained a lot of attention on social media after a group of police lined up their patrol bikes to block a group of primarily Black spectators from the course. Some question whether the group was being unfairly policed because of their skin colour.

In the video, Mike Remy of the Boston-based Pioneers Run Crew (PRC) points out that the Newton Police are lined up with their bicycles between a group of spectators and the runners at mile 21. “I don’t even know what the police presence is all about,” Remy said in the video. Remy goes on to believe that the group he was in was being over-policed because they are Black.

According to Newton Police, the spectators were notified three times about staying off the course and behind the rope barrier and not impeding runners. “We responded respectfully and requested that all spectators were to stay behind the rope and not encroach onto the course,” said the Newton Police in a statement. “When spectators continued to cross the rope, the Newton Police used bicycles to restrict the course and keep the runners and spectators safe.”

Members of the PRC wrote on social media that the police’s message was “heavy-handed and unnecessary” when compared to police response elsewhere along the marathon route. The run group argues they were treated unfairly and says other groups who were celebrating runners in the same fashion didn’t receive the same treatment.

Security was a primary concern throughout the 2023 course, since it was the 10th anniversary of the tragic 2013 bombing, which killed three people and injured hundreds of others. The Boston Athletic Association (B.A.A.) said in a statement: “Our role is to create a safe and enjoyable experience for athletes, volunteers and spectators across all our events.”

Each year, the B.A.A. co-ordinates safety and logistical protocols with police departments from seven Massachusetts cities and townships: Hopkinton, AshlandFraminghamNatickWellesley, Newton and Boston. 

“We were having so much fun,” said Remy in the video. “And that all kind of came to an abrupt stop.”

According to PRC-run leader Aliese Lash, it is common for the run crew to run and cheer alongside members of their crew running the marathon. “We’ve previously have not had problems in Chicago and New York City Marathons,” Lash commented on Instagram. “This is a moment of tradition and celebration for our friends and family.”

Toronto run community builder Quinton Jacobs was at mile 21, spectating with Pioneers Run Crew. “I was out there all morning celebrating and cheering,” he says. “Runners were thanking us for our support,” said Jacobs on Instagram. “A reminder to stay back would have been fine… but a police barricade is unnecessary, ridiculous, and embarrassing.”

The Pioneers Run Crew demanded an apology from the B.A.A., the Newton Police, and an official statement from both the mayors of Newton and Boston.

The B.A.A. has agreed to meet with leaders of the Pioneers Run Crew on April 19 to investigate and discuss the incident further.

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