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California creates nation's first 'Ebony Alert' to find missing Black children

Black Coalition Fighting Back Serial Murders members Suzette Shaw, left, holding photos of 10 victims, and Margaret Prescod, at podium, join relatives of victims speaking after the sentencing for Lonnie Franklin Jr., a convicted serial killer known as the "Grim Sleeper," in Los Angeles Superior Court in August 2016.
Damian Dovarganes
/
AP
Black Coalition Fighting Back Serial Murders members Suzette Shaw, left, holding photos of 10 victims, and Margaret Prescod, at podium, join relatives of victims speaking after the sentencing for Lonnie Franklin Jr., a convicted serial killer known as the "Grim Sleeper," in Los Angeles Superior Court in August 2016.

Tens of thousands of Black youth and women go missing across the U.S. each year. But their cases hardly ever grab national headlines, let alone receive the attention and resources dedicated to finding them.

The state of California is taking steps to address that, creating a new statewide alert system to help locate and bring attention of missing Black children and young Black women — being the first in the nation to do so.

Senate Bill 673, signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sunday, will create the "Ebony Alert" system for missing Black children and young women. When activated, the proposed system – similar to Amber or Silver alerts — would inform people of missing Black children and young women between the ages of 12 to 25.

The alert system will make use of electronic highway signs and encourage the use of television, radio, social media and other platforms to spread information about the missing persons alert.

The new alert system will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2024.

State Sen. Steven Bradford, who introduced the measure, praised Newsom's support in signing the bill — and he emphasized the disparity between resources and coverage in searching for white people and those of color across California.

"Today, California is taking bold and needed action to locate missing Black children and Black women in California," Bradford said in a statement announcing the bill signing.

"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," he added.

Black youth and women go missing at a disproportionate rate

On average, more than 600,000 people are reported missing in the U.S. each year, according to data from the National Crime Information Center.

In 2022, up to 546,000 people were reported missing across the U.S. — with 36% of those cases identified as Black youth and women.

And while Black people make up 13% of the U.S. population, nearly 40% of missing persons cases are people of color, according to the Black and Missing Foundation.

"It is important to continue to raise awareness about this issue and advocate for policies that prioritize finding missing people of color," Natalie Wilson, co-founder of the Black and Missing Foundation, told NPR.

Wilson told NPR that time is often critical in missing persons cases. She hopes that this new alert system will work hand-in-hand with media and law enforcement to help families searching for their missing loved one.

"We must ensure that every missing person is given the same amount of attention and resources, regardless of their race or socioeconomic status," she said.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jonathan Franklin is a digital reporter on the News desk covering general assignment and breaking national news.