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Ebony Alerts enacted to find missing Black youth

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The Gamut, Oxford Academy
Lavanya Shyamsundar
November 16, 2023

On Oct. 8, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed SB 673 into law, creating the new Ebony Alert System for missing Black youth and young women which will be put into place by the California Highway system starting Jan. 1, 2024.

The Ebony Alerts will work like AMBER Alerts and will be issued via phone notifications, electronic billboards on highways, and local TV and radio stations based on the geographic area determined by the investigating law enforcement agency. Ebony Alerts will be sent out for missing Black individuals between ages 12 and 25, including those who are victims of trafficking or whose safety is otherwise compromised.

The Ebony Alert system was specifically instated because of the disproportionate representation of Black people on the missing persons list, with nearly 40% of missing people being African Americans, despite only making up 13% of the U.S. population, as reported by the U.S. Census. California State Sen. Steven Bradford released a statement discussing how the Ebony system was necessary because of the lack of media representation and overall means deployed to find missing Black youth.

“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,” said Bradford.In addition to representation issues, supporters of the system discuss its importance in helping limit racial biases preventing rescue initiatives. As a legal loophole, many law enforcement agencies have inaccurately marked certain Black missing youth as runaways. The Guidelines for Issuing AMBER Alerts require evidence of an abduction that puts the child’s safety in jeopardy, with descriptions of victims and perpetrators—else they are classified as runaways, halting the progression of rescue.

“Many times young African Americans who disappear are quickly identified or labeled as ‘runaways’ by law enforcement whereas our counterparts are quickly identified as ‘missing’ or ‘abducted,’” Bradford said. “Even when young African Americans are being sex trafficked, they’re listed as juvenile prostitutes. Many times they arrest these young African-American ladies as prostitutes versus being a victim of sex trafficking.”

SB 673’s implementation is anticipated to expedite the process in which missing Black youth are found while representing Black issues more publically to potentially save lives.

“It is important to continue to raise awareness about this issue and advocate for policies that prioritize finding missing people of color,” the Black and Missing Foundation said. “We must ensure that every missing person is given the same amount of attention and resources, regardless of their race or socioeconomic status. Let us work together to bring justice and peace to families who are searching for their loved ones.”

Photo credit: Fibonacci Blue

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