Shadow Warriors of 2017: End of Year Update

On January 7, 2017, I introduced a feature on my Enigma In Black blog, Shadow Warriors. The intent was to shine a light on those putting in serious work on behalf of their respective causes, that might not have gotten the recognition (yet) they deserve. This year there were eleven individuals or groups I was blessed to have been able to highlight and thought I’d end the year by letting you know what’s been going on with these Warriors since I wrote about them. I’ve appreciated learning about all of them and their work and being able to support them in some small way. If any of you are inclined, I hope you can do the same.

 

Sevgi Fernandez

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Sevgi Fernandez was the first Shadow Warrior and exemplifies the type of person we want to recognize. She said, “My goal is to bring people together across racial, religious and cultural lines to combat the system of racism and oppression in the country. As long as we are divided, our voices and impact are weakened.”

The President of “Together We Stand,” she and they get involved in cases others often pass by. One of those we mentioned in Sevgi Fernandez: Shadow Warrior, was the death of Marcus (Marc) Anthony Merritt in Leonville, LA. According to officials, no crime scene photo’s were taken, no toxicology reports, no autopsy, and the coroner never even saw the body. His death was classified as a suicide. The TWS team and others have made great strides in uncovering new information that will change the narrative. Watch this space!

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In another case involving Ryan Turk, a 15-year old black male was arrested over a 65 cent carton of milk that he was entitled to free. The case was eventually dismissed, in no small part due to the pro bono efforts of Attorney Emmitt Robinson.

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TWS was active in rallies opposing the Alt-Right in Charlottesville, VA and Berkeley, CA and is involved in the planning of a major rally in San Francisco on December 16, 2017. They’re also actively working on the development of a Youth Social Justice Center in Northern California in 2018. Sevgi was the first Shadow Warrior and is still very much in the battle!

 

The Wilson Academy

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When I wrote about The Wilson Academy: Shadow Warriors, in February, the Georgia Independent Christian Athletic Association (GICAA was threatening to dismiss them from the league, during the State Boy’s Basketball playoffs. Because the Wilson Academy Warriors chose to kneel during the National Anthem in response to police shootings and the lack of justice when it came to people who looked like them. After a tremendous response from parents, friends, and strangers. The League relented and let Wilson Academy play. They lost their next game but won a battle the students will learn from forever.

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Later in the spring, the school took the trip they were raising money for to Capetown, South Africa where they visited Nelson Mandella’s first and last home, and the jail cell where he spent 18 of his 27 years in prison.

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During the summer, the league revised the contract with the schools, requiring them to stand for the National Anthem. Wilson Academy thought they might have to pay a fine which they were prepared to pay but later learned if they violated the prohibition, they would be kicked out of the league. This message was sent to Wilson Academy just before a road game which happened in Alabama. The Warriors and their cheerleaders did what they have done for the last several months. They took a knee. They also won the game.

 

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Prior to the next game, the Commissioner called the headmaster, Byron Wilson, prepared to kick Wilson Academy out of the league. For whatever reason, the Commissioner changed his mind, allowing them to stay in the locker room during the Anthem which they were always willing to do.

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At the time of this writing, The Wilson Academy put out a call for all alumni to attend the next basketball game wearing all black. It wasn’t a protest, they were simply playing a tough opponent and wanted all the support they could get. But you never know because… Wilson Academy.

 

Kelly Hurst

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Kelly Hurst: Shadow Warrior, is first and foremost an educator. When asked why she wanted to be an administrator, she responded, “Leadership found me, and I wasn’t going to shy away from it any longer.” She spoke out when students, in particular students of color, were receiving disparate treatment in the schools. Over time Kelly has developed a significant online presence, becoming nationally known as an educator and blogger. When her School Board tried to move her to a position where she could help fewer students. She stepped out on faith, leaving what others viewed as a comfortable job and started Being Black At School, so she could do more. She would not be silenced!

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Since the profile piece on Kelly was written, she was awarded cohort status for the Advancing the Development of Minority Entrepreneurship in Illinois (ADME). She’s one of 35 applicants accepted into the program, developed to strengthen start-up and small businesses from underrepresented communities.

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Immediately after the founding of BBAS, Donald Trump was elected President and Betsy DeVos was soon installed as Secretary of Education. This has made the need for BBAS ever greater, while traditional funding sources are drying up. More than ever they could use your support. Please Donate Now, your children’s future may depend on it.

 

Dr. Crystal A. deGregory

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In looking for a way, to sum up why “Dr. DE” was chosen for a Shadow Warrior in a single paragraph, I gave up. She’s a historian, educator, been a radio-show host and supported many great causes. Three things that had to be mentioned is her founding in 2012 of HBCUstory, her Bahamian heritage and her love of alma mater, Fisk University.

Since writing about Dr. deGregory in April, she’s been named the inaugural Director of the Atwood Institute for Race, Education and the Democratic Ideal at Kentucky State University. She also serves there as an Associate Professor of History.

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She’s been published in the New York Times, USA Today, and The Tennessean among others. She wrote an epilogue for, The Athletic Experience at Historically Black Colleges and Universities, written chapters in several books and reportedly has her own book in the works.

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Named, “Young, sister, leader” by Spelman College and Bennett College for Women President Emerita Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole. Dr. deGregory has already been recognized as someone on the move and the only direction she knows is up.

 

Aramis Ayala

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We were introduced to Aramis Ayala: Shadow Warrior, in May when she was in the middle of a struggle with Florida Governor Rick Scott, and many in law enforcement and the State Legislature over her decision to refuse to ask for the death penalty in her role as Orange/Osceola County State Attorney.

Newly elected, she defeated Jeff Ashton, one of the losing Prosecutors in the Casey Anthony trial. When she ran for office, the death penalty did not exist in Florida, having been declared unconstitutional. Approximately two months after she assumed office, a constitutional death penalty statute was enacted. Shortly afterward, Ayala announced she would not request it in any case because it was unfair. She said, “What has become abundantly clear through this process is while I currently do have the discretion to pursue death sentences, I have determined that doing so is not in the best interests of this community, or in the best interest of justice.” She added, “After review and consideration of the new statute, under my administration, I will not be seeking the death penalty in cases handled in my office.”

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All hell broke loose, especially because the first case where the death penalty was to be considered involved an alleged killer of a pregnant woman and female police officer in separate incidents. All involved were black. The Governor removed all potential death penalty cases from Aramis and appointed another prosecutor to oversee them, one not elected by the voters of Orange and Osceola counties. Aramis Ayala filed a lawsuit against the Governor which she ultimately lost. She agreed to institute a panel that would consider death penalty cases and make a recommendation which she would agree to follow.

Her struggle with the Governor continues as the panel recommended death for a recent case but a filing deadline was missed by the State Attorney’s office making the ability to seek the death penalty in that case unclear. Ayala blamed the Governor who had indicated he wanted to review all death penalty cases from the jurisdiction. Governor Scott has demanded records from the State Attorney’s panel, including meeting times and dates. To be continued…

 

Glory Edim

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Glory is the founder of Well Read Black Girl,  a Brooklynn based book club with over 25,000 members worldwide. When we wrote about her in June.She was preparing to host the first annual WRBG Writer’s Conference and Festival. WRBG had a Kickstarter campaign where they sought $15,000 and raised significantly more in just a few days, enough to host a celebratory concert. This is what I wrote then, Glory Edim: Shadow Warrior.

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WRBG went on to hold that literary conference and concert. The culmination of a celebration of black female writers and readers. WRBG continues to grow both its online presence along with in-person meetings where black female authors across the diaspora are elevated.

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George (Geo) Cooper

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A high percentage of the profile, George (GEO) Cooper: Shadow Warrior, didn’t come from research and interviews. I just spoke from the heart about the man I watched arrive at Fisk University with the big ‘fro, big smile, and serious focus. I didn’t know then of his musical history as a teenager and participation in the All-City Choir in Chicago. I was aware he was a Jubilee Singer at Fisk but I knew him better from talking trash about sports and being friends with literally everybody. There were those who settled into cliques if they pledged a fraternity or sorority but GEO crossed every line counting everyone the same.

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Being Facebook friends with George gave me a chance to watch him continually impart history about Fisk, African-American history and the Jubilee Singers. One of his sons was a big winner on the Jeopardy show and I knew he got it from his daddy. As a musician, George has performed with legends like the Isley Brothers, Peabo Bryson, and Natalie Cole yet carved out a niche for himself on piano whether recording instructional video’s on Chopin’s etudes or playing with Chaka Khan. Fiskites won’t forgive me if I don’t mention the group Autumn of which George was a founding member.

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He formed the Ella Sheppard School of Music in his native Chicago and serves as Minister of Music for Congregational Church of Park Manor and Assistant Minister of Music for St.Mark AME Zion.

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Since I wrote about George in July, he helped pull off the successful Fisk Jubilee Singers Alumni Heritage Awards where they honored Patti Austin and made her an honorary Jubilee singer, along with posthumously honoring Mahalia Jackson and Sarah Vaughn. George serves as President of the FJSA which he will do well as he does all things. He made the time to accompany singer Amber Nicole Johnson in her debut concert and is currently working on a Martin Luther King Celebration at his church in January. I’m just proud to know him.

 

Zain Jacobs

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Zain Jacobs if fiercely passionate about education. Her own education, her children’s, and thankfully your children as well. I don’t know where she finds the time to do all she does. She founded the Blooming Lotuses Rites of Passage Group and has maintained some iteration of it for several years. Some of the young women she mentored are now grown, some married with children of their own. All of them went on to college, none had teen pregnancies and most are still in touch on a regular basis.

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She launched, P.I.L.L.A.R.S. 4 Success, LLC which stands for Power In Life Learning And Resilience Strategies.  Pillars offers organizational support, community education such as G.E.D./Post Secondary Prep, parenting support and mentoring.  She provides workshops on Cultural Competence. Zain works with trafficked youth, addicted youth, many on probation or otherwise involved with the justice system.

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Since her profile in Zain Jacobs: Shadow Warrior, Zain has been writing, speaking, and planning her next move. One of her children graduates in May and her “secret plan” goes into effect the next day. Whatever she does next, she’ll give it her all.

 

The Dreamers (DACA Recipients)

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The Dreamers then as now, are in a precarious position where they have declared who they are, in a country where some want them gone. When we wrote about them in September, The Dreamers (DACA Recipients): Shadow Warriors, Donald Trump had just announced the formal end of DACA while suggesting Congress could address the issue before a 6-month deadline when DACA would be dead.

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In the three months since then, Congress has done nothing. Democrats are trying to include a plan to save DACA as part of a spending bill to keep the government open while Republicans want to wait until the last moment, seemingly desiring to appease their base and let DACA go away.  A two-week extension was just signed to keep things open, Nancy Pelosi says they “won’t leave town without a deal on DACA.” The question is, will Democrats stay strong and risk the government being shut down, or will they cave in? To be continued…

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Harry T Moore

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The story of Harry T Moore: Shadow Warrior, was not known to many of my readers. Even those familiar with the Civil Rights movement. Harry T Moore was active in the NAACP and worked with Thurgood Marshall to help get justice for the “Groveland Boy’s” which many speculate led to his death. Moore and his wife Harriette were killed in a Christmas night bombing in their home in 1951.

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Learn about his legacy by visiting the Harry T and Harriette V Moore Cultural Center in Brevard County, FL or attend the Annual NAACP Florida State Conference annual memorial event. Dates to be included later.

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Babz Rawls Ivy

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It’s perhaps unfair to write Babz Rawls Ivy: Shadow Warrior, in November and come back in December and ask, “what have you done for me lately?” Yet Babz being Babz is always up to something and this month is no different.

As Editor-in-Chief of the Inner-City News with the largest circulation of any Black newspaper in New England, host of the Love Babz Love TalkRadio Show, head of both the Seed & Source Literary Group and Earth Seed Publishing. You’d think she’d be too busy to take the time she does, encouraging others, pushing them to reach their goals, all the while pursuing her own.

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Since November she’s launched the Criminal Justice Insider radio show on WNHH Community Radio. She and her co-hosts discuss all aspects of the justice system, including the effects of incarceration and the challenges faced by ex-offenders. She can’t possibly do everything in a 24-hour day and yet she does. Sleep is apparently overrated!

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Shadow Warriors will be back in January 2018, introducing a new set of Shadow Warriors for your consideration. As always, I encourage any suggestions of deserving candidates that their work might be better known. Follow this page so as not to miss any future “Warriors” and please share so that others might know them as well. Peace!

 

 

 

 

Aramis Ayala: Shadow Warrior

Aramis Ayala is fighting for her political life. Newly elected as the State Attorney for Orange-Osceola in Florida covering Orlando and the surrounding area. She defeated incumbent Jeff Ashton, best known for his role as lead prosecutor in the infamous Casey Anthony trial. Ashton had name recognition and the backing of the establishment. Ayala had money.

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Photo: donate.constantcontact.com

She benefited from just under a million dollars in spending from Florida Safety and Justice, a Political Action Committee (PAC) tied to George Soros. Television ads and mailings from the PAC were considered a factor in her surprise victory. I live in the area, received mailings from both candidates and saw her ads. Ayala campaigned on the promises she would prosecute domestic violence cases and ensure racial equality in the State Attorney’s office. Aramis Ayala worked in Ashton’s office as a prosecutor for two years. She worked as a Public Defender in Orange County for eight years prior to that. While not relevant, some would insist you know of her husband’s conviction when young of a drug offense before they met in church.

Her platform focused on more transparency and prosecution of personal crimes like domestic violence. She said she’d bridge the gap between communities who perceived an inequity in justice, particularly the black community, and her office.

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Photo: rabidrepublicanblog.com

In December of 2016. 41-year-old Markeith Loyd was declared the main suspect in the shooting death of his pregnant ex-girlfriend Sade Dixon. Sade’s brother who was also shot and other family members identified Loyd as doing the shooting that took place at Ms. Dixon’s parent’s home. In an earlier incident, Loyd assaulted Dixon during an altercation and bit her. Markeith Loyd fled from the scene and was the subject of a manhunt that would last almost a month.

On January 6, 2017 at 4:00pm, Aramis Ayala was sworn in as the Orange/Osceola State Prosecutor. She was the first African American State Attorney in Florida history. When Aramis ran for office. The Death Penalty did not exist in the State of Florida. It had earlier been declared unconstitutional (twice) and had not been a campaign issue. Ayala would later say, “When I ran for office, I don’t recall death penalty ever coming up as an issue. And it doesn’t surprise me because when I ran for office, death penalty was unconstitutional in the State of Florida. We’ve only gotten a constitutional statute as of March 13th of this year.”

On January 9th, 2017, three days after Ayala assumed office. Orlando Police Lt. Debra Clayton was killed in an Orlando Walmart parking lot. A citizen approached Clayton saying they thought they had seen Loyd. As Clayton neared Loyd, he shot her. She returned fire, striking him in the chest but he was wearing a bulletproof vest. Ultimately, he shot her four times. One which entered her neck was declared the fatal wound. It entered at a downward angle while Loyd stood over her. He basically executed her after she was already disabled.  A second officer, Orange County Deputy Norman Lewis, died during the search for Markeith Loyd.

The ensuing manhunt was on an entirely different level than when Loyd killed Sade Dixon. His face was plastered all over local television and social media. Rewards were offered up to $100,000. His employer, a niece and different ex-girlfriend were arrested on charges of harboring a fugitive. It was widely discussed among locals that they didn’t expect Loyd would be captured alive given the outrage of the police. On January 17th, Loyd was captured alive despite being heavily armed and wearing body armor. Captured alive but make no mistake they beat his ass, damaging one eye. Video showed officers kicking him after he was down and handcuffed. There was no outrage. He was universally considered scum by black and white alike. No one cared.

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Photo: twitter.com

On January 19th, Loyd had his first court appearance where he indicated he wanted to defend himself. Attempting to tell his version of the original murder. He disputed what he called “the lies” being told by the media. As the hearing ended he told the judge, “Fuck you!” twice. He protested the injuries received during his arrest. There was no community outrage. No one cared.

Markeith Loyd was as reviled a defendant as any that had come through the Orange County Courthouse in some time. On March 16th, Aramis Ayala, after extensive research, announced she would not be seeking the death penalty in any cases coming to her office. Then the gates of hell opened, unleashing its hordes upon her. She received death threats including a noose sent to her office.

Before she decided not to pursue the death penalty in any cases. Ayala had her staff review the newly enacted statute and past cases. She says only then did she make her decision. She said, “I took an oath to support, protect and defend the Constitution and the American Bar Association rules of conduct outline my duties as a prosecutor. My duty is to seek justice, which is fairness, objectivity and decency. I am to seek reform and to improve the administration of justice. I am prohibited from making the severity of my sentences the index of my effectiveness.”

“What has become abundantly clear through this process is while I currently do have discretion to pursue death sentences, I have determined that doing so is not in the best interests of this community, or in the best interest of justice,” she said. “After review and consideration of the new statute, under my administration, I will not be seeking death penalty in cases handled in my office.”

News of the policy leaked to a local television station and there was soon a condemnation from Orlando Police Chief John Mina. Not long after, there were quick responses from Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and Governor Rick Scott. In a written statement Bondi stated, “State Attorney Aramis Ayala’s decision today sends a dangerous message to residents and visitors of the greater Orlando area — furthermore, it is a blatant neglect of duty and a shameful failure to follow the law as a constitutionally elected officer.”

Governor Scott said, “I want to be very clear, Lt. Debra Clayton was executed while she was laying on the ground fighting for her life. She was killed by an evil murderer who did not think twice about senselessly ending her life,” Scott stated. “I completely disagree with State Attorney Ayala’s decision and comments, and I am asking her to recuse herself immediately from this case. She has made it abundantly clear that she will not fight for justice for Lt. Debra Clayton and our law enforcement officers who put their lives on the line every day.” Governor Scott asked her to recuse herself from the case and she refused. The Governor later removed her from the case, appointing another prosecutor. He later removed her from all 23 potential death penalty cases handled by her office.

She was not immune to criticism from the local black community. Former Judge Belvin Perry (also of Casey Anthony fame) was outraged and has stated he believes Ayala will be removed from office. Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demmings agreed with Governor Scott’s decision to take her off the case. Demmings also spoke to the mother of Sade Dixon, Loyd’s first victim who indicated she was upset with the decision to not seek the death penalty but understood the reasons.

There are some things generally accepted as true. Sometimes the wrong person gets convicted, DNA evidence has overturned many cases over the years. Once an inmate is executed, there is no satisfactory resolution. It is also true that race has historically played a role in sentencing and that disparity has led to an inordinate number of black and Hispanic prisoners being executed as opposed to white convicts. This is not because minorities commit more heinous crimes than white people. Studies have shown minorities are more likely to get harsher sentencing and/or the death penalty than whites. Critics say Aramis Ayala didn’t run on a platform advocating repeal of the death penalty. She certainly said she wanted to address the unfairness of the system and reach out to the minorities who perceive systemic injustice.

Aramis has her supporters as well. Several legal experts suggest the Governor doesn’t have the power to remove cases from the legally elected State Attorney. Her lawyer Roy Austin says, “The justice system is supposed to be, and holds itself out to be, independent of political influence. This is one of the clearest cases of an attempt to politicize our justice system. So, I think people nationally who care about the independence of the justice system care about what happens in this case.”

She’s received support from the NAACP, ACLU, the Sentencing Project and Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. Some have suggested that Ayala was singled out for her race. Ayala said of the Governor’s action, “What I think about the Governor, what is clear is that he’s attacking the independence of prosecutors. He’s abusing his power and he’s got absolutely no substantive law that I’ve violated.” When asked about justice for the victim’s families, she replied,”There are cases in my office from 1976, 77, when I was two years old that families have been waiting on death sentences. There’s no reason for those families not to have some level of closure.”

On April 11, 2017, Ayala filed a Federal lawsuit against Governor Scott. Constitutional law professor Darren Hutchinson saya she makes two main points. The Governor has diluted the power of the voters of Orange/Osceola County that elected her to the position. It also deprives Ayala of her constitutional right to due process. He said, “She’s an elected official, and that gives her the right to hold that job and perform it fully. Governor Scott has deprived her of that job in an arbitrary way… it’s just because he disagrees with her.”

A recent poll says that 62% of Orange/Osceola citizens would prefer people convicted of first degree murder serve life sentences. The poll was not specific to Markeith Loyd where I suspect those wanting death would poll higher.

Aramis Ayala is a different choice for Shadow Warrior than previous honorees. She fights for what will seem to some as an inconvenient justice. She is correct when she says the death penalty has been and still is unfairly applied. She’s right in that sometimes states get it wrong and kill the wrong person. We could agree that there is no appropriate recompense when a mistake is made. There is much we can agree upon, including that the bulk of the establishment, and much of the public want Markeith Loyd dead for his crimes. One more than the other. When the pregnant ex-girlfriend was killed it was bad. When a police officer was killed, revenge is apparently required.

Florida is not alone in the need for exacting revenge. Oklahoma, Arkansas and others have thrown cruel and unusual punishment out the window. They’ve demonstrated willingness to use unauthorized and untested chemical combinations to kill, possibly breaking laws themselves in their desire for vengeance. Other states have redefined mental disabilities to allow what otherwise would not be permitted. States resist DNA testing that might prove innocence lest they get in the way of a promised execution. One the side of quick executions, even at the risk of getting some wrong is the President, Attorney General, most Governors and in Florida’s case the weight of the State government including the Republican legislature. Aramis Ayala stands mainly alone.

That the law supports Ayala’s right to decide whether to seek the death penalty is clear. Should the citizens that elected her dislike her choices there is a mechanism called an election to remove her from office. There are provisions for recall elections should the next election be too far away. There is no legal apparatus for the Governor to restrict her cases, threaten the offices budget (which he has) of for the Legislature to attempt to remove her. Ayala has taken a stand and is facing the whirlwind. A true warrior!

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Photo: blavity.com

Each month Enigma In Black will feature a new Shadow Warrior. Don’t miss any by scrolling down and clicking “Follow”. Please share so that we can bring these Warriors and their work out of the shadows! I’d love to hear your suggestions for future Warriors which you can leave in the comments section.

Featured Photo: pinterest.com

Previous Warriors:

Dr Crystal A. deGregory

Sevgi Fernandez

The Wilson Academy

Kelly Hurst