November 17, 2023
California is addressing the disproportionate representation of Black individuals in missing persons cases by introducing the nation’s first Ebony Alert system. The move comes as a response to the 38% of missing black minors in the nation’s total missing persons cases despite Black populations consisting of up to 14% of the nation’s demographics.
Modeled after the well-established AMBER Alert system, which was initiated in 1996 following the tragic abduction and murder of eight-year-old Amber Hagerman, the newly introduced Ebony Alert system aims to prompt a collaborative public effort to locate and report missing young Black individuals aged between 12 and 25.
Under the new system, the California Highway Patrol will be authorized to issue Ebony Alerts for Black individuals reported missing under “unexplained or suspicious circumstances,” those with disabilities, or those who have been abducted.
Similar to the dissemination channels used for AMBER Alerts, the Ebony Alert System will utilize existing broadcast channels such as highway signs, mobile push notifications, and announcements from radio and television broadcasters to ensure widespread dissemination of information.
California Senator Steven Bradford emphasized the critical need for the Ebony Alert system, highlighting the troubling trend of young African-American girls being categorized as runaways or juvenile prostitutes when they are, in fact, missing or victims of exploitation.
The Black and Missing Foundation, Inc (BAMFI), a non-profit organization, has also expressed its support for the Ebony Alert system. Cofounder Natalie Wilson believes that the implementation of this system will lead to increased media coverage of missing individuals of color and prompt law enforcement to reevaluate their policies and procedures.
The case of Arianna Fitts, a two-year-old Black child who went missing near the San Francisco area in 2016, serves as a poignant example underscoring the advocacy for the Ebony Alert system.
Despite her mother, Nicole Fitts, being found murdered, an AMBER Alert was never issued for Arianna. Her whereabouts remain unknown, and the San Francisco Police Department has offered a $250,000 reward for any information regarding her disappearance and her mother’s murder.
However, the implementation of the Ebony Alert system has not been without its share of criticism. Some have raised concerns about the potential segregation implications of the system, noting that it specifically targets individuals of Black heritage while excluding others.
Sgt. Amar Gandhi with the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office told ABC10 News, “Race and ethnicity do not play a factor in how we deploy resources or what our response is” when issuing AMBER Alerts.
While the Ebony Alert system marks a turning point in addressing the disparities in missing persons cases, it is worth noting that similar initiatives have been introduced in other states. In 2022, Washington signed a bill to establish Indigenous Person Alerts, which focus on reporting missing Native Americans.
Additionally, the AMBER Alert system operates across all 50 states, including Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Moreover, various other alert systems, such as Silver Alerts for the elderly, Blue Alerts for missing police officers or dangerous suspects at large, and a range of other state-specific alert systems, have been implemented to address specific demographic or situational concerns.
According to the 2022 AMBER Alert Report, a total of 181 AMBER Alerts were issued involving 227 children. In a select case analysis involving 169 AMBER Alerts with 211 children, White children accounted for 41% of the cases and 36% were Black children.
The National Crime Information Center reports over 140,000 Black individuals under the age of 18 were reported missing in 2022 along with over 193,000 reports for missing White minors.
The Ebony Alert system will go into effect in January 2024.
Photo credit: Beachcomber