Lawmakers consider state 'ebony alert' targeting Black females

BOSTON — In the last 18 years, Amber Alerts have helped recover nearly 1,200 children in the United States. But nothing exists to alert law enforcement authorities that adults are missing — in particular, Black women.

But that could change in Massachusetts.

State Representative Bud Williams of Springfield is co-sponsoring House Bill 3913, which would establish an executive office dedicated to missing and murdered black females across the Commonwealth.

An Act Relative to Missing Black Women and Girls in Massachusetts also applies to females of color.

The office would not only keep tabs on the number of cases in Massachusetts — but would create a spin-off to the Amber Alert known as the “Ebony Alert.”

“With the Amber Alert you just press the button and it goes all over the country or the state,” said Williams. “I think it could be a game-changer and it would bring the attention that’s so desperately needed.”

Williams, citing national crime statistics, said it’s believed Black Americans in general make up forty percent of all missing people — even though they make up just 13 percent of the population. And, at the moment, he said 64,000 Black women remain missing across the U.S.

“When Black women are reported missing they say, oh, they just ran away... maybe they’ll come back,” he said. ”If a white woman is missing and she’s got the blonde hair, blue eyes kind of thing the media attention is out of this world. It’s all over social media, TV, radio, Internet. But if a Black woman goes missing it’s deaf ears.”

Williams made his remarks at a State House gathering to promote support for H3913. One legislative proponent is State Sen. Liz Miranda of Boston.

“We have to start the conversation with the honest truth, because anywhere else would not be justice for the thousands of missing Black girls and women across our country,” Miranda said. “Thousands of people are reported missing every year in this country and while every case will not get the widespread media attention the disparities exist between white and non-white individuals and they’re glaring.”

One of those who brought attention to this issue is Mayowa Osinubi, who brought up the idea for a missing persons organization dedicated to black Americans while in graduate school at Tufts University. It is called Mics for the Missing. She said faster dissemination of information is the key to saving Black women and girls.

“We know that those first 48 hours really matter when it comes to finding someone missing,” she said.

Osinubi said one of the misconceptions about missing Black Americans is that runaways are not in trouble because they haven’t necessarily been abducted.

“Running away is just the act of the child,” she said. “It doesn’t mean their cases aren’t serious and that they aren’t in danger. So every kid that goes missing is endangered.”

Detective Lieutenant Ann Marie Robertson of the Massachusetts State Police said that sometimes authorities don’t learn a person is missing for months — because families don’t report it.

“The most important thing when your loved one is missing is you want to report that to the local police department,” she said. “Where they went missing or where they were last seen.”

Robertson said families who don’t report a missing member right away may avoid doing so because of extenuating issues.

“We totally understand,” she said. “There are family strains. It could be drug or alcohol abuse. There could be mental health issues. But that doesn’t matter. No one should feel because of those issues that they shouldn’t report their loved one missing. We’re going to look for them no matter what.”

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