Aniah Blanchard’s Still-Grieving Mother Celebrates Adoption of Amendment 1
Following the passing of Amendment 1 in Tuesday's election, Aniah Blanchard's mother is commending the citizens of Alabama for working together to keep her memory alive.
Amendment 1, more commonly known as "Aniah's Law," gives judges discretion to deny reasonable bail to offenders charged with capital murder, murder, kidnapping, rape, sodomy, domestic violence, sexual torture, human trafficking, burglary, arson or robbery, along with terrorism when the act is a Class A felony other than murder and aggravated abuse of a child under the age of 6.
Angela Harris, a Homewood native, has been on a mission for the past three years, fighting for bail reform to prevent tragedies like Aniah's from devastating other families.
The Journey to Aniah's Law
Blanchard was a 19-year-old college student who was kidnapped in from a gas station in Auburn while purchasing a late-night snack October 2019. Her remains were found a month later in Macon County.
At the time she was taken, her alleged killer Ibraheem Yazeed was out of jail on bond in connection to several violent offenses he'd already been accused of committing. Harris said she feels Aniah's murder could have been prevented if laws preventing the release of repeat offenders or particularly violent ones had been in place.
"When Aniah was still missing, after we found out that a suspect had been named and that she had been kidnapped, I was hearing about the suspect's criminal history and that he was out on bond for attempted murder, kidnapping and robbery," Harris exclusively told the Thread. "I couldn't believe that it was possible. I was in shock. I told myself I was going to do something about this and I was going to change laws and I heard Aniah say to me, 'don't let this happen to anybody else'."
Harris said what would come next was ordained: one of her friends came to her about an issue that would put Aniah's Law into motion.
"A couple of days, maybe a week after her remains had been found, we were preparing for her memorial service when a friend of my mine, who is actually a state representative from Winfield, Alabama, Tracy Estes, called me," Harris said. "He wanted to talk to me about a state representative out of Mobile, Chip Brown, who was going to be carrying a bond reform law into the legislative session in February 2020. He explained the bill to me and I was like 'oh my gosh, this is exactly what I want to do, this is the law I want to have.'"
Brown told her he wanted to name the bill after Aniah, a decision Harris described as "the perfect thing that was supposed to happen."
The bill passed unanimously in the Alabama House of Representatives in 2021. Harris said she and her family went to Montgomery in June 2021 to witness Governor Kay Ivey sign the bill after it received approval from the Alabama Senate, which allowed the issue to be put on statewide ballots in the 2022 general election.
Amendment 1 received more than 1,000,000 "yes" votes, which was more than 80% of the total vote and drew the highest participation rate of all the amendments on this year's ballot.
Harris said having the bill officially become state law will prevent both first-time and repeat offenders from victimizing more people before their first cases are resolved in court.
"We don't want people offending at all but we would be living in a perfect world if that was the case," Harris said. "Unfortunately, we live in a state where there's a lot of crime and a lot of crime towards children. There's a lot of repeat violent offenders that should not be out on the street. This law is going to give judges the discretion to say no bond to someone who has been charged with a violent crime."
Harris said the law may not be able to prevent every tragedy from happening, but said she thinks it will save many lives.
Harris said the passing of Amendment 1 triggered a range of emotions for her family. After the measure passed, it took her a day for her to actually speak on what the news meant, sharing her thoughts on Facebook Live Wednesday evening.
"It's hard," Harris said. "These past three years have been hell and still is. Yes, I am more than happy that this law was passed to honor my daughter but on the other hand, I'm very angry and heartbroken because my daughter should be here. If we had a law like this in place, I feel like she would still be here. Those emotions are always pulling me in different directions and sometimes I just shut down. I needed a minute to process all of my thoughts and feelings."
Honoring Aniah's Legacy
Harris said if Aniah was alive, she thinks she would be proud of the decisions and efforts that helped bring the law to fruition.
"I know that Aniah would absolutely be so happy because all she cared about was helping other people," Harris said. "She cared about other people's lives and I know that this would have been amazing to her. She would have been like 'wow, this is amazing mom'. She would tell me how proud she is. To be able to save people from getting killed or having any violent crime committed against them, Aniah would have done anything to fight for that and that'd what she did. She gave her life for it."
Harris developed a non-profit in her daughter's honor, Aniah's Heart, in July 2020. It seeks to provide resources to families of missing persons, as well as provide safety training, including self-defense classes, to members of the community.
Keeping Yourself Safe
Harris said the organization is hosting a self-defense class in Homewood on November 19 but encourages any group who would like for the organization to offer training to contact them.
"We want Aniah's Heart to be huge and we want it to be everywhere," Harris said.
Harris said just like Auburn, Tuscaloosa is a college town and encourages students, like Aniah, to be aware of danger and to build a safety plan for themselves.
"Understand that you can be a victim," Harris said. "I know with college-ages kids, you have this newfound freedom since you're not constantly being monitored by parents so know this is not a safe world that we are living in. Things happen everywhere and there's really no such thing as a safe place. Have a safety plan everywhere you go. Let someone know your whereabouts. Always, always know your surroundings and never be caught off guard."
Harris said people's safety should be a top priority, which she says is just as important as knowing what they may eat for a day.
"When you're going out or hanging out with friends, you can get carried away and not be paying attention and that's not okay. You got to be as safe as you can. Take a self-defense class, even if it's not through us. Be confident and know how to protect yourself."
Harris said she hopes people will continue to honor Aniah and the ways she has made an impact, even in death.
"She put up a fight to be able to save other people and she was such an amazing human being and I don't want anyone to forget about her," Harris said. "Another way to honor her is to take your safety seriously and I want everyone to be aware, moving forward, and know that they can make a difference in our state. They have the power, as you can see with Aniah's Law, that anything can happen. Just keep fighting together."
To learn more about Aniah's Heart or to make contributions to their organization, visit www.aniahsheart22.com.