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California creates Ebony Alert for missing Black women, children. Here’s how it works.

  • News

Krystal Nurse
October 11, 2023

Missing Black people in California will have a specialized alert notification after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill creating the “Ebony Alert.”

The new alert, which goes into effect on Jan. 1, is aimed to help bring missing Black children and women home in California. Sen. Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, wrote the bill and praised Newsom’s support. Bradford said the state’s missing Black children and Black women are disproportionately represented in missing persons lists and is a crisis for the state.

Newsom, a Democrat, signed the bill on Sunday.

“The Ebony Alert will ensure that vital resources and attention are given so we can bring home missing Black children and women in the same way we search for any missing child and missing person,” Bradford said in the release.

The law will allow California Highway Patrol to activate the alert upon request from police, and use electronic highway signs, radios, TV and other emergency alert notification systems to signal Californians about those who are missing.

This isn’t California’s first alert to address racial disparities in missing people of color. Newsom signed the Feather Alert bill last year that Assemblymember James C. Ramos, D-San Bernardino, a citizen of the Serrano/Cahuilla tribe, wrote to help locate endangered Indigenous people.

Amber Alerts issued rarely across the nation

Amber Alerts are issued for just a tiny fraction of missing child cases in the United States, a USA TODAY investigation found. In 2021, there were 254 Amber Alerts compared with the more than 337,000 missing-child reports local police agencies logged with the FBI – less than one alert for every 1,000 children.

From 2017 through the end of 2021, Black children made up 37% of missing-child reports and nearly 37% of Amber Alerts, USA TODAY found, indicating the alerts are issued proportionately.

The USA TODAY Network found Black children are disproportionately classified as runaways by police, which pulls away resources to help locate them.

At the end of 2022, the National Crime Information Center said that 30,285 Black people are still missing. That same year, Black women accounted for 18% – or 97,924 – of all missing persons reports. That’s despite Black women accounting for 7% of the total U.S. population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“Today’s bill signing represents a historic breakthrough, guaranteeing that Black children and young Black women will receive the attention and protection they need when they are reported missing,” NAACP California Hawaii State Conference President Rick L. Callender said Monday.

When can police activate the Ebony Alert?

According to the bill, law enforcement can activate the alert if a combination of the following criteria are met:

  • The person is between 12 and 25 years old.
  • They have a mental or physical disability.
  • Their physical safety may be endangered or they could be trafficked.
  • The person went missing under unexplained or suspicious circumstances.
  • Police believe the person is in danger because of age, health, disability, or environmental conditions; a potentially dangerous person is with them or there are other factors threatening the person’s safety.
  • Police have used local resources during the investigation.
  • There’s a belief the alert could help safely recover the missing person.

Photo credit: USA TODAY

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