BAA apologizes to police, says officers followed protocol in interaction with racially diverse run clubs

Boston Marathon

Local police leaders reportedly took issue with how the Boston Athletic Association handled its response to allegations of racial profiling during the 2023 Boston Marathon.

A photo provided by Pioneers Run Crew shows police apparently surrounding the area where members of two diverse running clubs were cheering at the Boston Marathon on Monday, April 17, 2023. Dave Hashim/Pioneers Run Crew

With just a few weeks until race day, the organization that runs the Boston Marathon admitted that it failed to adequately communicate about keeping a clear course last year and that it has been in touch with local police leaders about those mistakes. The latest statements from the Boston Athletic Association are tied to an incident in Newton last year where officers blocked members of two running clubs spectating the race in order to prevent them from interacting with racers. 

That episode, which involved many people of color that were members of two prominent running clubs, set off a flurry of criticism aimed at the BAA and the officers, including accusations that they perpetuated discriminatory policing practices. 

Ahead of this year’s race, BAA President and CEO Jack Fleming privately apologized to a group of police officials for how it addressed the incident, The Boston Globe reported. 

Westwood Police Chief Jeffrey Silva, head of the Metropolitan Law Enforcement Council, reportedly told the BAA that the group would not help staff the 2024 marathon unless it apologized for its response to the situation and agreed to pay for the costs of staffing METRO-LEC officers at the race. 

Silva told his fellow police chiefs in the council that the BAA agreed to the terms, according to the Globe. Silva did not respond to a request for comment Thursday. 

The BAA is reviewing the policies designed to keep the course clear with all parties involved to make sure that they are understood, Fleming said in a statement to 

“Simply put, [BAA] did not do a good job last year communicating the longstanding policy that we need a clear course – free of spectators or other disruptions – to assure our 30,000 participants have an unobstructed path for all 26.2 miles. By not clearly and consistently communicating that policy or creating clear delineation around where spectators can view the race, we did a disservice to all spectators and the police that we rely on to help maintain a clear course,” Fleming said in the statement. 

Fleming told the police chiefs that the BAA did not “properly recognize the important role” police play in making sure the marathon goes smoothly, according to the Globe. Fleming also acknowledged to them that the officers involved did follow police protocol. 

“We have appreciated the opportunity to review these issues with all parties and take responsibility for our role. We are making every effort to assure that the policies are clear in advance of this year’s race and that all can experience an enjoyable race day,” Fleming said in the recent statement. “My message to the [METRO-LEC] was focused on the important role they play and to acknowledge that omission in our message.”

The incident involved Pioneers Run Crew and the TrailblazHers Run Co. The BAA has called them “two of Boston’s premier clubs for BIPOC runners.” One of the spectators, J. Mike Remy, detailed how events unfolded from his perspective in a YouTube video posted shortly after the race. Another spectator, Dave Hashim, told last year that officers on bicycles and motorcycles told the group that they were interfering with race participants and formed a wall between the spectators and the runners.

“Some people were in tears, others were angry. The police presence felt overwhelming, as though we had done something terribly wrong, and that was not the case,” Hashim said in an interview after the race last year. 

Pioneers Run Crew and the TrailblazHers Run Co. did not respond to requests for comment Thursday. 

Newton police said at the time that officers were dispatched to the area after being contacted by the BAA. 

Lawyers for Civil Rights, a Boston-based nonprofit, said that the interaction was an instance of racial profiling, and that they had received requests for legal assistance from runners and spectators involved. 

A few days after the 2023 race, Fleming publicly responded, saying that the BAA met with the running clubs and needed to do a better job of creating an “environment that is welcoming and supportive of the BIPOC communities at the marathon.” Fleming also said in that statement that the BAA could not hold the marathon without first responders and law enforcement agencies. 

But police leaders felt frustrated by Fleming’s statement because it did not acknowledge police clearly enough or defend how officers handled the situation, the Globe reported. That frustration led to METRO-LEC’s demand for an apology from the BAA.

“Our goal is to keep everybody safe, regardless of who they are, where they’re from, how they look,” Silva told the Globe. “That having been said, the officers were deeply offended, that they were accused of doing something with racial animus and they became the B roll of over policing or biased policing. That clearly was not the case.” 

LCR Executive Director Iván Espinoza-Madrigal took issue with the BAA’s apology to police.

“The BAA is moving us backward and invalidating the legitimate experiences of Black running crews who suffered discrimination at the marathon. The BAA should be working with law enforcement to ensure the fair and non-discriminatory treatment of all spectators. No one should be greeted with surveillance or intimidation,” he said in a statement to Thursday. “At Lawyers for Civil Rights, we now have serious concerns about the physical safety of Black running crews at the marathon. A sporting event that should be bringing our communities together is increasingly becoming a hostile and toxic environment.”

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