October 12, 2023
Despite concerns, California Gov. Gavin Newsom this week signed a bill that officials say will create the nation’s first “Ebony Alert” system. The new system functions similar to Amber Alerts, but it will be activated specifically for missing Black children and young women.
The law, which goes into on Jan. 1, will allow law enforcement agencies to activate an alert on electronic highway signs and encourage media outlets to assist with disseminating the information, according to state Sen. Steven Bradford, the Gardena Democrat who introduced the bill.
California last year launched the Feather Alert system, which is used for suspicious or inexplicable disappearances of indigenous people. The state also has Amber Alerts, used to inform the public of child abductions, and Silver Alerts for elderly or mentally disabled people. Ebony Alerts will be used exclusively for Black children and women between the ages of 12 and 25.
“Our Black children and young women are disproportionately represented on the lists of missing persons. This is heartbreaking and painful for so many families and a public crisis for our entire state. The Ebony Alert can change this,” Bradford said in a statement.
Some 39 percent of missing children nationwide in 2022 were Black, though Black people make up 13 percent of the U.S. population, according to the nonprofit Black and Missing Foundation.
The National Crime Information Center found that year that 36 percent of all missing people reported in the U.S. in 2022 were Black youth and women.
Bradford said that Black children are disproportionately classified as “runaways” compared to white children, who are classified as “missing.” The result is that many missing Black children do not receive Amber Alerts or media attention, Bradford said.
While Newsom said the bill highlights the “well- documented disproportionality in the number of children of color who go missing every year,” he expressed concerns about the “expansive” criteria of the bill that “do not align” with the criteria in existing statewide missing persons alerts.
“Our emergency alert system is dependent on people not being fatigued by it and thus ignoring it. Our challenge is to achieve balance between the imperative to notify the public quickly in cases of missing persons or dangerous situations, but to not desensitize that same public by sending too many notifications,” Newsom wrote in a statement.
In an effort to achieve a balance, Newsom said he directed state law enforcement and emergency officials to propose budget reforms to “ensure consistency for all of California’s alert programs.”
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