What you should know about the Missing Black Youth Alert System

“This is something that is really needed,” California Senator Steven Bradford, who authored the new law, tells PEOPLE

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A stock photo of a little boy going to school in the morning in Santa Monica, California.

A new alert notification system will go into effect in California in January – the first of its kind in the country – to help law enforcement find missing black teenagers.

On October 8, Governor Gavin Newson signed a bill establishing the Ebony Alert, which aims to address racial disparities in missing persons cases in the United States, particularly among young people of color.

“We were thrilled and very grateful,” State Senator Steven Bradford, the bill’s author, tells PEOPLE. “It’s something that’s really needed. We wouldn’t have done it if we didn’t think it was important. That’s why I commend the governor for having the vision to sign this bill and help return these people to their loved ones, just as we do with anyone else who goes missing or is kidnapped.”

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What is the Ebony Alert?

According to the bill’s text, the bill would authorize a law enforcement agency to request the Department of the California Highway Patrol (CHP) to activate an Ebony Alert, particularly for cases involving Black youth, including girls and young women.

The criteria for activating the Ebony Alert include factors such as:

  • The missing person is between 12 and 25 years old

  • The person has a mental or physical disability

  • Law enforcement authorities determined the person was missing under unclear or suspicious circumstances

  • The physical safety of the missing person could be at risk

  • The victim could be a victim of human trafficking

  • The police believe that the missing person is in danger or is in the company of a potentially dangerous person due to their age, health, mental or physical disability, environmental or weather conditions

  • There is sufficient information available to the public that could assist in the victim’s recovery

“This bill would authorize the department to issue an Ebony Alert within the appropriate geographic area requested by the investigating law enforcement agency,” the legislation states, “and to assist the agency by disseminating certain alerts and signs, “If the department agrees to it.” This means that an Ebony Alert would be an effective tool in the investigation of a missing person under certain circumstances.”

The Ebony Alert is similar to California’s AMBER Alert, which is modeled after the statewide AMBER plan created after the 1996 murder of 9-year-old Amber Hagerman, according to the CHP. The only difference between the systems is the age of the missing person. For the AMBER alarm: 17 years or younger.

Related: Ala. Woman called 911 to report seeing a child on the highway. Then she disappeared

“We want it to work the same way as the AMBERT Alert,” Bradford tells PEOPLE, “where again our law enforcement intervenes, then our highway patrol intervenes and we have electronic billboards on our highways and we use all of our media channels, radio and Television to the same extent and ensure that people are made aware that these individuals are missing.”

Racial differences that led to legislation

California already has the Feather Alert, a notification system for missing indigenous people, and the Silver Alert in the event that “an elderly, developmentally or cognitively disabled person goes missing and is considered at risk,” the CHP said.

But the text of the Ebony Alert bill, which Bradford introduced earlier this year, says that while nearly 98% of missing children have been found because their cases have been widely publicized over the past two decades, “there are significant racial disparities in the USA” gives statistics of the 2 percent who are still missing.”

According to the Black and Missing Foundation, a Maryland-based nonprofit, nearly 40% of missing people in the U.S. are people of color — even though African Americans make up just 13% of the country’s population, according to U.S. Census data.

Related: Natalie and Derrica Wilson help search for missing people

The same organization also said that of the 214,582 people of color reported missing in 2022, 153,374 were under 18 years old.

It also added that many missing minority children are initially classified as “runaways” and therefore do not receive an Amber Alert or media attention.

“Often, young African Americans who disappear are quickly identified or labeled as ‘runaways’ by law enforcement, while our counterparts are quickly identified as ‘missing’ or ‘kidnapped,'” Bradford says. “Even when young African Americans become victims of sex trafficking, they are listed as teenage prostitutes. Many times they arrest these young African American ladies as prostitutes instead of being victims of sex trafficking.”

Related: Search suspended for man who disappeared from cruise ship while celebrating his father’s 60th birthday

Bradford also points to the heavy media coverage of the missing person case of Gabby Petito, who was found strangled in Wyoming after taking a cross-country road trip with her boyfriend Brian Laundrie in the summer of 2021.

“She was a prime example of what this country can do when it really wants to find you,” he says. “But the media attention her disappearance garnered in this country is very rare, if ever, seen for an African American, who disappears at a higher rate than our white counterparts.”

The Importance of the Ebony Alert

In a statement shared with PEOPLE, the Black and Missing Foundation welcomed the legislation establishing the Ebony Alert, calling it the right move.

“California is among the states where people of color are disappearing at an alarming rate,” the statement said. “Unfortunately, many of our cases go under the radar, like Arianna Fitts of San Francisco, who has been missing for seven years after her mother was found murdered. We need to change these statistics.

The organization hopes the rest of the country will follow Ebony Alert’s lead in California. “It is important to continue to raise awareness of this issue and advocate for policies,” the statement continued, “that prioritize the search for missing people of color.” We must ensure that every missing person, regardless of their Equal attention and resources are given to race or socioeconomic status. Let us work together to bring justice and peace to families searching for their loved ones.”

Bradford tells PEOPLE he hopes the Ebony Alert, which goes into effect on January 1, 2024, will lead to a timely and safe return of young Black people, similar to their counterparts. “This is about reunification, about finding these people who are missing, who were in no way kidnapped themselves, and bringing them home safely to their families,” he says, adding: “That’s all we’re looking for can hope.”

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Read the original article on People.