'Ebony Alert' legislation could help address racial disparity in missing persons cases, advocates say

Black and Missing Foundation cofounders spoke to "GMA3."

May 3, 2023, 4:32 PM

In the United States, Black Americans go missing at a disproportionate rate compared to other races, according to the National Crime Information Center. Last year alone, out of approximately 546,000 people reported missing, 36% of those were Black.

Lawmakers in California are hoping to address the disparity with recent legislation that would allow law enforcement to request an "Ebony Alert" to get the word out about missing Black women and children ages 12 to 25.

Derrica Wilson and Natalie Wilson, cofounders of the Black and Missing Foundation, say the legislation is a "step in the right direction" to getting more attention to cases that often go under the radar. They spoke to "GMA3" about the alarming rate of missing persons in the Black community and what they say needs to change in order to address the problem.

EVA PILGRIM: And joining us now are the cofounders of the Black and Missing Foundation, Derrica and Natalie Wilson. Thank you both so much for being with us. So, Derrica, I want to start with you. Why do such a disproportionate number of people of color go missing in this country? And your foundation says they are less likely to be featured on Amber Alerts. Why is that?

DERRICA WILSON: Absolutely. So we have our community going missing at an alarming rate. Typically, when families are going to law enforcement, their cases are often dismissed. Our children are classified as runaways and runaways does not meet the criteria to initiate an Amber Alert. And when it's adults, oftentimes their disappearance is associated with some sort of criminal activity. And it really dehumanizes and desensitizes the fact that these are valuable members of our community.

PHOTO: A Missing Person poster is seen in an undated stock photo.
STOCK PHOTO/Getty Images

DEMARCO MORGAN: And Natalie, a new bill was introduced in California that would allow law enforcement to request an Ebony Alert to get the word out about missing Black women and children ages 12 to 25. What do you make of this legislation?

NATALIE WILSON: Well, I believe that this legislation is a step in the right direction. When 40% of the missing population are people of color and they are under the radar, they're not getting the same level of media coverage which can aid in their recovery. That is an issue. So we see this alert, it is in conjunction with the Amber Alert and the Silver Alert, so that the individuals that are most vulnerable can get the help that they need, because awareness is key and getting the media to cover these stories, it will be a great impact on these cases.

PILGRIM: Derrica, do you think that solves the problem? If law enforcement isn't recognizing these people as missing, does changing the name of the alert fix the issue?

DERRICA: That is a great question. It really is a step in the right direction. But there needs to be enhanced training with law enforcement, and we have to start with the classification. Runaways does not meet the criteria for Amber Alert. So if law enforcement is immediately dismissing the case, would it also qualify for an Ebony Alert? So I think we have to look at it holistically. I think we have to really enhance the training, and I think we need to just terminate the classification "runaway" altogether. These children are missing. They are not in positions to make decisions on their own and they are endangered when they are missing in our community.

MORGAN: Natalie, what systemic changes need to be made to find people who are missing people of color?

NATALIE: Well, as Derrica mentioned, we need to change the classification from runaways, because if you are classified as a runaway, you do not get the Amber Alert, and you definitely don't get any media coverage at all. But again, awareness is key, and we need to peel back the layers on the issues as to why people are disappearing. Sex trafficking, domestic violence and the list goes on and on. And we need to look at unhoused individuals that are homeless, you know, economic status. So there are so many issues as a community we need to take a look at. But we also need our community to get involved. Don't turn a blind eye to the issue because it's not your family member that's missing.

MORGAN: It is so important to have you guys on the front lines. This is an important subject here, a very important topic, and we appreciate it. All right. Natalie and Derrica Wilson, thank you for being with us.

DERRICA: Thank you for having us.