CHP vehicle(l), Ebony Alert(r)

California Highway Patrol/Wikipedia CHP - Alerts/Twitter (CC-BY)

California’s new Ebony Alerts receive backlash for racist undertones—despite advocates calling system ‘truly needed’

There's a reason behind it.


Tricia Crimmins


Posted on Feb 20, 2024

AMBER Alerts, public broadcasts about missing children, are common knowledge. But the California Highway Patrol (CHP) now uses specified alerts to connote different types of missing persons, which some say are insensitively named.

The Ebony and Feather Alerts in particular have been the subject of discussion online.

CHP introduced Ebony Alerts, broadcast messages about the disappearance of a Black person, to the public on Jan. 1 after the new emergency alert system became law at the end of 2023.

CHP’s X account began tweeting out Ebony Alerts on Jan. 19, but it was one tweeted about over the weekend that got serious attention.

In a Feb. 16 tweet, CHP tweeted that 14-year-old Raniyah Moorehead had been missing since Jan. 5, 2024. While most Ebony Alert tweets receive around 100,000 views on the platform, Moorehead’s had over 36 million.

That’s because it was heavily engaged with thanks to people discussing the ethics of naming a Black missing person’s notification an “Ebony Alert.”

“Ebony Alert sounds too racist for me,” an X user tweeted.

“Why do Black people have to be classified differently?” media personality Trelli Trelle tweeted. “I feel like once the world knows it’s an Ebony Alert… less people will look for you stop doing this. This is weird.”

Some even said that the alert system segregated missing persons.

That’s not how the alert was framed when it was created and passed into law. California State Sen. Steven Bradford (D) told People in October 2023 that the alert was “truly needed” to remedy the racial disparities in missing persons cases. What’s more, the Black and Missing Foundation, a nonprofit working to bring awareness of missing persons of color, told People that it hoped other states will institute their own Ebony Alerts as well.

The Alert’s purpose seemed unclear to the public, however, many of whom also took issue with CHP’s Feather Alert, a public broadcast about missing Indigenous persons. That was signed into law in 2022.

“Are any people of color actually okay with calling it an ‘Ebony Alert’ for missing Black people and a ‘Feather Alert’ for Native people?” writer Tyler Austin Harper tweeted. “Is ANYONE okay with this? Does anyone think this is NOT offensive/racist?”

Black children go missing more often than their white counterparts, but their disappearances aren’t always included in AMBER Alerts. Additionally, the Native American and Indigenous communities in the U.S. face a “disproportionate” amount of missing persons cases.

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*First Published: Feb 20, 2024, 10:36 am CST