Skip to content

New state law identifies missing Black children


Ebony Alert takes effect Jan. 1, 2024

California recently passed a new law creating the Ebony Alert, a notification system that will keep the public informed about missing Black children and young people in an effort to address the disparity in missing persons cases. The Ebony Alert system — which will be used for Black people aged 12 to 25 — takes effect in California on Jan. 1, 2024. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the bill into law on Oct. 7. 

California’s legislation will allow law enforcement agencies across the state to submit requests directly to California Highway Patrol to activate an Ebony Alert, which will notify the public about incidents involving Black children and young people who are reported missing under unexplained or suspicious circumstances, or who have been abducted. The alert will also apply to situations where the missing person is disabled, cognitively impaired or otherwise at risk.

The California Highway Patrol will then activate the alert within a designated geographic area, as requested by the investigating law enforcement agency, and “assist the agency by disseminating specified alert messages and signs, if the department concurs with the agency that an Ebony Alert would be an effective tool in the investigation of a missing person according to specified factors,” the text of the legislation says. 

Similar to an Amber Alert, the Ebony Alerts may be displayed on electric signs along roads and highways. Television, cable, online, radio and social media outlets are also encouraged to pick up and share more widely the information in an alert.

Amber Alerts began as a local partnership between broadcasters and police in Dallas-Fort Worth to find abducted children in 1996, and expanded over the next several years into warning systems used throughout the country. The program has helped recover at least 1,127 children since it launched, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. 

But advocacy groups and policymakers, both within and outside of just California, have criticized the Amber Alert system for overlooking missing children who are Black, despite the fact that Black children make up a significant portion of missing people across the country. California’s Ebony Alert system aims to address the racial disparity. California lawmakers hope to confront a disproportionate number of young Black women who are missing.

At least 39% of children reported missing in the United States in 2022 were Black, according to the Black and Missing Foundation, which said 153,374 children of color were still missing across the country as of Oct. 11, 2023. That figure included people younger than 18 who are African-American, Asian and Indian.

The nonprofit organization has compiled breakdowns of nationwide missing persons statistics by race, age and gender, using data from the Justice Department’s National Criminal Information Center as well as the Census Bureau. Race was listed as unknown for a small percentage of children reported missing.

“A lot of minority children are initially classified as runaways, and as a result do not receive the Amber Alert,” the foundation writes on its website, while “missing minority adults are labeled as associated with criminal involvement gangs and drugs.” 

Passed earlier as Sen. Bill 673, the legislation was authored by Sen. Steven Bradford (35th District), whose district covers a large block of southern Los Angeles County.

“Today, California is taking bold and needed action to locate missing Black children and Black women in California,” Bradford said. “Our Black children and young women are disproportionately represented on the lists of missing persons. The Ebony Alert can change this. It 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.”