By Daniela Raymond
Starting Jan. 1, 2024, California will have a specialized alert system and notifications for missing Black people called the “Ebony Alert.” Governor Gavin Newsom signed SB-673 into law to implement the new system Oct. 8. The bill will allow the California Highway Patrol to activate the alert system based on a request from local law enforcement when a Black youth or Black woman has been reported missing according to data by the FBI.
Every year, millions of Black youths and women go missing across the United States. These are not the cases that you see taking over headlines, and more than often these cases are not solved. The “Ebony Alert” term was coined based on the “Amber Alert” system. Patrols will be able to use highway signs and reinforce the message to surrounding news outlets to spread information.
Black women and children are disproportionately represented in missing case files throughout the U.S. According to data from the National Crime Information Center, last year, more than 130,000 Black children under 18 were reported missing, and currently, there are more than 23,000 open missing persons cases.
Policymakers and advocacy groups have been criticizing the Amber Alert system for overlooking Black lives, despite the fact that Black children make up a significant amount of missing people across the country.
California Senator Steven Bradford said, “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.”
This bill has seen a lot of backlash from the Black community. While many understand the purpose, it seems like the objective may fall short. Despite the bill’s good intentions, the distinction is a way for authorities to decide how fast they want to respond. The alert system that used to be anonymous will now identify Black youth and women, and many feel like this is motive for people to not want to be on high alert or look at all because of the carelessness for Black lives. Critics believe that the new alert will embolden people to ignore the messages.
While this theory could be true, the original purpose of the Ebony Alert was not just because Black kids are not being found — they are not even being reported. A majority of minority children are initially classified as runaways and do not receive Amber Alerts. Many missing Black adults are classified as being associated with criminal involvement. As you can see, these issues are systemic, and while we hope to solve the issues entirely, we cannot ignore the fact that missing Black people need to be found. The bill is not meant to rival the Amber Alert but rather enhance it, highlighting minorities who rarely get attention when they go missing. The new alert will also cover anyone who is 25 or younger as the Amber Alert age cap is 17. Black people who are considered at risk or with mental issues will also now qualify and alerts will be sent out using roadsigns and electronic notifications.
The new Ebony Alert legislation has been sponsored by the NAACP California Hawaii State Conference. The Conference President Rick Callender called the legislation “a historic breakthrough, guaranteeing that Black children and young Black women will receive the attention and protection they need when they are reported missing.”
Missing Black women and children need to be made a priority. For far too long, their cases have been overlooked and neglected. We see these discrepancies within our government and now it is time to help the people who need it the most.