Bloomsday organizers are struggling to come up with what they could have done differently after dozens of runners on Sunday complained about an anti-abortion protest along the route.
Race director Don Kardong said Bloomsday officials had no idea the protest was planned. He got wind of it when, while running the course himself, he passed the group near Riverside Avenue and Government Way two miles into the race.
He said he found the signs, which included graphic photographs, distasteful, but “we don’t have any control on people putting signage off the course.”
When he passed it, he said, all was quiet, but several people later reported the protesters were yelling at Bloomsday participants – including the children – as they passed by.
A post on the Bloomsday Facebook page said the organization’s board would discuss the matter. “We are very disappointed this happened at such a family centered event,” the post said. “Please know we are taking proactive measures to ensure it does not happen again.”
Kardong said he doesn’t know who posted that apology on behalf of the Bloomsday board and doesn’t know what the board can do in any case.
Various groups have a presence along the Bloomsday route, from politicians to labor unions to Veterans for Peace.
“I have no idea at this point what we’d be able to do about it other than ask the people who own the land to restrict them from being there,” Kardong said.
People who commented on the Facebook post expressed varying opinions on whether Bloomsday was at fault for not controlling the protesters.
“The images where horrific and disturbing,” one comment read. “No need for that type of protest during a family event.”
Another said, “I think that we live in America and sometimes the truth about reality is offensive and inappropriate and we just need to get over it!”
Many people also admitted to yelling back at the protesters and making gestures, which other people said was just as offensive as the anti-abortion protest.
Several people questioned why law enforcement didn’t take action.
Spokane police Detective Lydia Prichard said via email Monday that a police officer in the area saw a male protester “provoking” runners and asked for a supervisor to respond.
She said the sergeant spoke with the protester, who refused to leave. Officers monitored the situation for another hour before the protesters eventually left.
“In most instances, protesters do have a right to protest freely; however, in instances where they are creating hostility in the area, such as this, we warn them about the potential for violence and request they leave if we believe they will incite violence,” she said.
Kardong said the group – which has not been identified – did a “disservice” to its own cause.
“I do know those people lost a lot of support because a lot of complaints we got were from people who are pro-life,” he said.