In January 2024, Californians can expect to receive a new missing person’s alert on their cell phones and mobile devices, and it’s a very specific alert that has driven a cascade of disapproval from social media users.
Earlier this month, California Governor Gavin Newsom introduced the Ebony Alert law in California, set to take effect at the beginning of next year. This law empowers California Highway Patrol officers to respond when local law enforcement reports the disappearance of a Black individual, be it an adult or a child. The legislation also places a strong emphasis on engaging the public through television, social media, and radio to swiftly spread the word, fostering statewide collaboration to locate the missing person.
Lawmakers have emphasized the law’s role in addressing the disparity in missing persons cases, particularly those involving people of color. The Ebony Alert Law focuses on the search for missing Black youths and women aged between 12 and 25. Senator Bradford, a co-sponsor of this groundbreaking law, has defended it by asserting that it addresses the perceived neglect of Black youth by the existing Amber Alert system.
The AMBER Alert system was named after Amber Hagerman, a 9-year-old girl who was abducted and tragically murdered in Arlington, Texas. The name “AMBER” now stands for “America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response.” Amber Hagerman’s abduction and murder served as a catalyst for the development of the AMBER Alert system, which is designed to rapidly disseminate information about child abductions and assist in the safe recovery of missing children.
In 2006, the Wireless Emergency Alert System adopted AMBER Alerts as part of a broader strategy to disseminate information about missing children to mobile devices. In addition to AMBER Alerts, The WEA issues Silver Alerts for missing senior citizens with cognitive impairments, Blue Alerts for missing or injured law enforcement officers, Camo Alerts for missing military personnel, and local law enforcement agencies may issue alerts for other missing persons or emergencies in their jurisdiction.
The AMBER Alert system operates on both national and local levels. National AMBER Alerts, issued by the U.S. Department of Justice, are released in cases where a child has been abducted and is believed to be in grave danger. Local alerts are distributed by law enforcement agencies within a specific region or community for missing or abducted children who do not meet the criteria for a national alert.
The AMBER alert was designed for use when any child meets certain criteria. Generally, the alerts are issued when a child under 17 is kidnapped and in danger. Law enforcement must have clear information about the child, abductor, or the suspect’s vehicle. These alerts generally don’t apply to parental abductions unless there’s a real threat to the child’s safety.
AMBER Alerts are issued for children of all races and ethnicities, which is why the introduction of the Ebony Alert has generated substantial controversy on social platforms. Residents in California and users nationwide are expressing their reservations regarding the law’s one-sided bias.
One online commentator claims, “This new alert system will prioritize black and brown children and can’t be used to help find missing white children.”
But that’s exactly the point of the bill, sponsored by Representative Juandalynn Givan (D – Jefferson County, CA). Givan says that across the country, there are disparities when it comes to missing Black people.
Givan points to numerous studies conducted by numerous organizations and institutes, including Harvard and the National Institute of Health, finding that people of color do not receive as much attention as white people, especially white women. It’s a phenomenon known as “Missing White Woman Syndrome.”
Newsom and his team believe the Ebony Law will level the playing field when it comes to grabbing attention for missing children of color.
But posters on social media were quick to point out the inherent racism of the Ebony Alert. As one user commented, “So they seriously believe the Amber Alert system discriminated against children of color? I find it interesting how the fight against segregation was so important to MLK, yet these liberals have convinced this community that segregation is the way now.”
The controversial Ebony Alert law is rife with concerns regarding its racial bias. It prompts further discussions about ensuring equal treatment for all missing children, irrespective of their race.
One social media user summed up the argument perfectly, posting, “A missing child is a missing child. I never heard an amber alert and thought to disregard it based on that child’s race. When will these radicals realize fighting racism with racism is not the answer?”