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California’s ‘Ebony Alerts’ for missing Black youth go into effect

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Ja’han Jones
January 2, 2024

California’s first-of-its-kind law, designed to help young Black people who’ve been reported missing, officially went into effect on Jan. 1.

The state’s new “Ebony Alert law” was signed this past October and created a notification system for law enforcement agencies like the California Highway Patrol to activate, which will use road signs and will encourage media outlets to spread the word about missing Black people aged 15 to 25. The new law authorizing Ebony Alerts resembles a similar California law that created “feather alerts” for missing Indigenous people.

The bill’s author, California state Sen. Steven Bradford, cited data from the Black and Missing Foundation, which found that 38% of children reported missing in the United States are Black; that Black children are disproportionately classified as “runaways” as compared to white children, who are classified as “missing”; and that Black children, as a result, often don’t get Amber alerts or media attention when they do go missing.

“Data shows that Black and brown, our indigenous brothers and sisters, when they go missing there’s very rarely the type of media attention, let alone AMBER alerts and police resources that we see with our white counterparts,” Bradford told NBC News last year.

Highly publicized stories of missing white people, like the disappearance and death of 22-year-old Gabby Petito in 2021, have helped to highlight the disparate treatment of white and Black people, and women in particular, who go missing. As I wrote back in 2021, Petito’s disappearance drew attention to the phenomenon sometimes known as “missing white woman syndrome,” a reference to the unequal media coverage of missing white women, as compared to missing nonwhite women.

Bradford told NBC News, “We feel it’s well beyond time that we dedicate something specifically to help bring these young women and girls back home, because they’re missed and loved just as much as their counterparts are.”

Photo credit: MSNBC

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