CHP issues state’s 1st Ebony Alert; teen found safe

January 08, 2024

Daily Breeze


A first-of-its-kind statewide call brought a once-missing teen home safely this week — just a few days after the new law that made it possible took effect.

The California Highway Patrol issued the state’s first Ebony Alert on Thursday, Jan. 4, for a missing 17-year-old girl who had last been seen on Dec. 30 at Broadway and West Florence Avenue in Los Angeles. The Long Beach Police Department requested the alert on Thursday.

A Long Beach police detective found the teen unharmed on Friday morning, Jan. 5, and helped her return home safely, said LBPD spokesperson Richard Mejia.

The emergency alert is similar to Amber, Silver and other such alerts, but with the focus on searching for and safely returning missing Black children and youth ages 12 to 25. a

A state law to create the Ebony Alert system went into effect on Sunday, Jan. 1.

Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, wrote the bill last year, with the intent to amplify missing people who are part of a demographic that has been historically misrepresented and forgotten when it comes to bringing them back to safety.

How quickly the tool was used after being implemented shows how necessary it is, Bradford said in a Friday statement.

“This is exactly the reason I authored this law; I appreciate that law enforcement is already utilizing this new notification tool that became law on Jan. 1,” Bradford said in the statement. “Black children and young women go missing at disproportionately higher rates but do not receive the same level of attention as others who go missing.”

Mejia, for his part, said the speed of the teen’s return is a testament to how the regional community comes together to solve things like this.

People, he said, are paying attention to these various alerts.

The alerts help quickly get information out to the public through highway signs, cell phone alerts and social media, Bradford said.

Like Amber Alerts, the CHP can send Ebony Alerts via wireless emergency messages to all cell phones in a given area.

People’s phones, however, didn’t blare with Ebony Alert messages on Thursday.

Under the law, the CHP can decide how and where to issue to alerts, Bradford said Friday. He will ask the agency how it determines which tools to use.

There’s clear data that shows African Americans are disproportionately missing, Bradford said previously, but rarely are law enforcement agencies dedicated to bringing them home safely. Now, that’s changing.

African American people make up 14% of the U.S. population but, according to the Black and Missing Foundation, 38% of the children reported missing in the nation are Black.

“Rarely is an Amber Alert triggered when an African American person is missing,” Bradford has said. “So hopefully this will bring forth the resources and media attention that’s been denied.”

Amber Alerts started in 1996 after 9-year-old Amber Hagerman was abducted and murdered near her home in Arlington, Texas. It was a partnership between law enforcement agencies and media broadcasters to quickly notify the public of an abducted child. California signed Amber Alerts into law in 2002.

The new Ebony Alert, meanwhile, isn’t the only emergency notification that’s geared toward specific demographics.

Feather Alerts were created early last year to help locate endangered Indigenous Americans who have been reported missing under unexplained or suspicious circumstances. And Silver Alerts, for people older than 65 who have disabilities or cognitive impairment, have been around since 2012.

The Ebony Alerts target those 12 to 25 rather than 17 and younger like Amber Alerts do, Bradford said previously, because Black young adults who may have been abducted often get less media attention than children would. African American women and men, he added, are just considered “missing” if they disappear at 18 or older.

And when Black people 17 or younger are missing or kidnapped, Bradford said, they’re often classified as runaways.

Being identified as a runaway can also be a legal loophole for law enforcement, according to the legislation that created Ebony Alerts, because when a child is listed as a runaway, police are allowed to delay response and investigation time.

While the law didn’t start with a specific origin story like Amber Alerts did, Bradford said, there are countless examples that have gone completely unaddressed.

A couple of years ago in Palmdale, for example, a pair of 5- or 6-year-old brothers who are African American disappeared for months, Bradford said. There was never an Amber Alert triggered, he said, even though authorities knew about the situation — and one of the boys was ultimately found dead.

Like the LBPD did this week, police departments throughout the state can now request that the CHP activate Ebony Alert messages and signs in respective areas when Black youth are reported missing under unexplained or suspicious circumstances, are at risk, have developmental disabilities, have cognitive impairments or have been abducted — with special attention on young women and girls.

Although the new law can’t ensure more accurate reporting in missing cases for the target demographic, Bradford has said, it focuses on issues that most heavily affect Black people, like sex trafficking, mental or physical challenges, people who have disappeared under suspicious circumstances and those who have been known to be harassed.

Bradford also added that public visibility can make the victims’ families feel seen and heard, something that before was a rarity in cases of missing Black people.

“This new law,” Bradford said, “can reduce the anguish and pain that so many families experience when a loved one is missing.”

Bradford has also said that he hopes this system expands nationally.

“I’m proud,” Bradford said Friday, “that California has become the first state in the nation to prioritize the crisis of missing Black people through the passage of the Ebony Alert law.”