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Days before Boston Marathon, Black running club sues race officials, police for alleged racial profiling

Black running group sues BAA, Newton police over marathon dispute
Black running group sues BAA, Newton police over marathon dispute 02:43

NEWTON - A racially diverse group of runners and spectators who felt police unfairly targeted them along the Boston Marathon running route last year has filed a lawsuit. It names the Boston Athletic Association, also known as the B.A.A, as well as the City of Newton, and Newton police.

Lawyers for Civil Rights filed the suit on behalf of a running group called Trailblazhers. They were part of a gathering to cheer on people of color on the course, set up at mile 21 near Heartbreak Hill. Several people in the group took video of Newton police surrounding them, saying officers racially profiled them and formed a blockade between them and the course.

Newton Boston Marathon police
Police officers stand in front of spectators along Boston Marathon route in Newton CBS Boston

"The issue is unequal treatment"

"The issue is not police presence at the marathon. The issue is unequal treatment," said attorney Oren Sellstrom, who's the litigation director with Lawyers for Civil Rights in Boston.

The lawsuit includes pictures of balloons in the middle of the course in Wellesley. "No one threatened or intimidated the white spectators to remove the obstructing balloon arch," it says. 

Another photo shows a spectator feeding a runner a doughnut while he's running. " BAA officials or police officers intervened."

Spectators will be removed from course

At a news conference Friday, B.A.A. President and CEO Jack Fleming had a message for those planning to watch. "Our request is for all spectators to be on the sideline and not on the course...cheering from the sideline." 

Boston Police Commissioner Michael Cox added that police will intervene. "They will be removed from the course," he said. 

Newton police chief defends officers

"Upon receiving the complaint, I unequivocally contest the document's substance as presented," said Newton Police Chief John Carmichael. "I stand by my decisions that day, and more importantly, I stand by our officers who acted appropriately, respectfully, and as expected." 

After the incident last year, marathon officials met with the running clubs involved, and pledged to make changes like special training for staff on how to avoid bias. The B.A.A also outlined ways it would offer more opportunities for people of color to participate.  

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