Melanie Huettman, student writer

   Terence Crutcher. Keith Lamont Scott. Philando Castile. Alton Sterling.

            These are just some of the names of black males who have been shot and killed by police officers in the last 3 months alone. In fact, in 2016, there were at least 200 shootings of black men by police. In the United States, we have an asylum system which allows people fleeing persecution in their home countries to seek safe haven here. What if this were happening in a different country? It is likely that the United States would grant asylum to black males fleeing this type of persecution from another country.

            Asylum is granted to those who meet the definition of “refugee”, which includes “any person who is outside any country of such person’s nationality . . . who is unable or unwilling to return to, and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of, that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion . . . .”[1] Suppose a black male was actually a citizen of another country who was experiencing the same kind of violence that ours is, and he decided to flee to the United States, who was not experiencing this kind of violence. Would he be granted asylum?

            First, this black male likely meets the first part of this definition. Unwillingness to return is a subjective question, so it would depend on the individual, but it can be assumed that this black male does not want to go back to his country of origin. Second, it is also likely that this black male would not want to seek the protection of his country of origin because its police officers who are the ones perpetrating the persecution. Additionally, this problem has not been solved by his country of origin, and there is no inclination that it will be solved in the near future, because the main governing body has taken few to no steps to fix it.

            Third this black male likely meets either the past persecution or the well-founded fear of persecution portion of the definition. If this black male can show that he has been subjected to unnecessary violence by police officers and/or that he has had relatives or close friends who have been killed by police violence, he would likely be able to show that he had experienced past persecution at the hands of police officers in his country of origin. For those who have not experienced this but still fear it will happen to them in the future, the test for a well-founded fear is split into a subjective and an objective component. The subjective component is fulfilled by a credible showing of subjective fear of returning. This black male would likely meet this requirement, as black males currently are often increasingly afraid to interact with police. There are accounts of these men being afraid to call for police services when they are needed. Additionally, one court in Massachusetts found that running away from police by black people could not be used by police officers as a reason for them to have reasonable suspicion because of a “recurring indignity of being racially profiled.”[2]

            The objective prong is satisfied by evidence that a situation exists where there is a reasonable possibility that the asylum applicant will be subjected to persecution.This black male also likely meets this burden, as there are several statistics that show that black people are all too commonly killed by police officers. At a rate of 200 killings of African Americans by police already this year, which is an average of 22 per month, the chances that our African American would be killed by police are very real. As sources familiar with the system have said, even a small percentage is enough so long as there is a reasonable possibility that the persecution will occur. Lastly, this black male clearly fits into the definition because his fear of persecution is based on race. Alternatively, because fewer black women are killed, he could fit into a separate, particularized and observable group of black men, who are often targets of police violence.

            Clearly the situation in our country is dire if we would likely grant asylum to someone from another country experiencing the same sort of violence. We must make an effort to repair the bridge between the police and our black citizens so that all of us can feel safe enough to call the police in times of emergency or even when our car is stalled without fear of being killed because of the color of one’s skin.

[1] Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 U.C.S. § 1101(a)(42).

[2] Commonwealth v. Jimmy Warren