California Bill Seeks To Create ‘Ebony Alert’ System To Report Missing Black Women, Youth

Black women and children disappear disproportionately and without getting the same attention as their white counterparts, Sen. Steven Bradford says.

A California lawmaker envisions a statewide system to notify people that a Black child or young woman is missing, in the hope of reducing the disproportionate number of them who disappear every year. If his proposed legislation is enacted, the nation’s largest states would have an “Ebony Alert” system.

State Sen. Steven Bradford, a Democrat, introduced Senate Bill 673 to “address the often ignored or lack of attention given to Black children and young Black women that are missing in California,” a March 23 statement from Bradford’s office said.

The measure would authorize law enforcement agencies to request activation of the Ebony Alert if it would help their investigation of a missing Black youth or Black woman ages 12 - 25. The system would also encourage traditional and social media outlets to disseminate information about the missing person.

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A similar Amber Alert system operates in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Indian country and 31 overseas countries, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. The alert system helped recover 1,127 children and rescue 131 children as of January 2, 2023.

Scores of Black children are excluded from Amber Alerts because they are disproportionately classified as runaways compared to White children, the statement said, citing information from the Black and Missing Foundation. Black children also account for 38 percent of reported missing children, even though they represent just 14 percent of the national population.

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“When someone who is missing is incorrectly listed as a runaway, they basically vanish a second time. They vanish from the police detectives’ workload. They vanish from the headlines. In many ways, no one even knows they are missing. How can we find someone and bring them home safely when no one is really looking for them,” Bradford, vice chair of the California Legislative Black Caucus, said.

At the same time, there’s also a media bias toward ignoring news of missing Black women and children compared to their white counterparts.

The late Gwen Ifill famously coined the phrase “Missing White Woman Syndrome” at a 2004 journalism conference. Ifill, a veteran broadcast journalist, was describing the coverage priority newsroom managers give to missing white women and girls.

“If it’s a missing White woman, you’re going to cover that, every day,” Ifill said, referring to the directive journalists receive.

A 2013 study by Northwestern University sociologist Zack Sommers appears to support Ifill’s observation, NPR reported. Although White women account for about a third of the national population, news coverage of missing white women represented half of the media’s missing person coverage.

“The Ebony Alert would ensure that resources and attention are given so we can bring home missing Black women and Black children in the same way we would search for any missing child and missing person,” Bradford said.

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