Through Irika Sargent and Carol Thompson
CHICAGO (CBS) — Chicago is facing a carjacking crisis.
The city is on track to surpass last year’s numbers. You’ve heard of victims of those crimes. You’ve heard of police and community leaders trying to prevent these crimes.
But for the first time, you’re hearing from some of the youngest carjackers committing these crimes. They talk about why they do it, how they do it and what it takes to make them stop.
Three teens sat down with CBS 2’s Irika Sargent for a candid conversation.
We give them a voice, not to glorify and take advantage of it, but to understand why they do it. Can what they say help you stay safe?
‘David’ is 14 years old.
“If they fight back, I’ll drag them out of the car and get in,” he said.
‘Nicole’ is 16 with a long list of carjackings to her name.
‘I’d say six. I do not know. I don’t count. (laughs)”
There could be hundreds of teenagers in Chicago looking for their next victims. We know from Chicago Police Department records that CBS 2 received through a public record request that the police arrested 50 children between the ages of 12 and 17 for carjacking. That was in the first four months of this year.
“David” had not been arrested when we spoke to him this summer. He told us he didn’t regret his first carjacking.
Anyone can be carjacked anywhere. It happens in dark alleys, busy parking lots, even just steps from your front door.
Victims described their carjackers: “I just felt her hands around my neck.” And “… leaned forward in the car and put the gun to my head.” And “…put a gun to my chest and said, ‘If you move, I’ll kill you’.”
We have been tracking an increase in car thefts for two years now, with many victims shocked at the age of their attackers.
The wife of a man who was shot to death when teenagers couldn’t figure out how to drive his car said through tears, “I want my husband back. It’s the worst day of my life.”
The daughter of an army veteran who was beaten to death by teenagers said, “I don’t feel like it.”
The Chicago Police Department has already expanded its carjacking task force twice this year. However, without much success. Up to the end of September, the CPD has made arrests in only 73 of the 1,203 car thefts. That’s an arrest rate of less than 6%.
Arrest data shows that 54% of those arrested for carjacking (January to April) were 17 years or younger.
Until now you have heard nothing from young carjackers about what motivates them to commit these crimes, how they choose their targets and whether anything will stop them.
CBS 2 has set up a room to talk to the three teenagers. CBS 2 set it up so that we wouldn’t see them, and they wouldn’t see each other. Nothing else was off the table.
‘David’ is 14 years old
Sargent: “What drew you in?”
‘David’: “The game. GTA.”
GTA is the long-standing, popular video game, Grand Theft Auto.
‘David’: “If you don’t have a car there, you can just take the car from people. It looked nice. I wanted to do it.”
Sargent: “Bring me back that first time.”
‘David’: “Me and my friends, three of us, were out for a walk and I said to them, ‘Let’s get a car.’ We saw a man and we just ran and stood him up, got in the car and drove off.”
Sargent: “Did he seem scared, shocked to see someone so young do it?”
Sargent: “Would you say it was easy?”
He says getting the gun was easy too.
‘David’: “People on Facebook and stuff. They sell weapons.”
Sargent: “So you could buy a weapon from Facebook?”
Sargent: “And do you think a lot of kids your age do that?”
‘Nicole’ is 16 years old
‘Nicole’ carjacks for several reasons.
‘nicole’: “I had a place to go and I had no way there. Sometimes I even sell a car, like buying a car to get money.”
She says it works in her favor to be a girl.
‘nicole’: “They probably wouldn’t expect a younger woman to commit car theft here.”
Sargent: “What kind of weapons do you use when you commit a carjacking?”
‘nicole’: “A knife.”
Nicole has been arrested before. But after a short stay in juvenile detention, she was out again and started carjacking again.
Sargent: “Is this something you still do?”
“In my mind, there is no child that is irreparable,” says Tyrone Muhammad.
He spent 21 years in prison for murder. And before that, as a teenager, he says, “I did the drive-by. I did the carjacking,” Mohammed said.
Now he leads a mentor group called Ex-Cons for Community & Social Change (ECCCC). The target? To prevent teenagers from ending up behind bars, using his own life as a warning. Does Mentorship Work?
“If you don’t replace their activity with something constructive, where they can see themselves earning, you will never solve this problem,” Mohammed said.
And there is a lot of work to be done.
CBS2 has been follow carjackings in Chicago. With 1,203 carjackings so far in 2021, this year is on track to surpass last year’s number of 1,414.
These two years together have already resulted in more carjackings than the previous three years combined. 2,617 compared to 2,307. Almost every neighborhood has been affected.
The five worst affected communities so far this year:
- Austin, 93
- Garfield Park, 75
- North Lawndale, 75
- Humboldt Park, 47
- South Coast, 44
‘Nicole’ often focuses on the Loop which has seen 11 carjackings this year. That is two more than last year.
Sargent: “What about that area that makes it an excellent place?”
“Nicole” says it’s all about how people behave: “They’ll think it’s safer for them…like they don’t have to worry about no one bumping into them.”
Sargent: “Have you ever hurt anyone?”
‘nicole’: “No. No. It’s not that far yet.”
But she admits it can escalate quickly.
Sargent: “People lose their lives because of this. This paralyzes people. Are you thinking of the victims?”
‘nicole’: “I want to say yes. But like at that moment, you may not be thinking.”
Impact of distance learning
Could distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic be partly to blame for the increased carjackings in the past two years?
‘Nicole’ says, ‘Sometimes I went to school and sometimes I didn’t. Whether I feel it or not.”
She adds, “If I were doing personal school, I’d think less about carjacking someone.”
“David” says he didn’t take distance learning “…so seriously” either. He says he was “bored”. And had more time to commit a carjacking.
And, recently released first-day attendance figures from Chicago Public Schools back up what “Nicole” and “David” said.
For the 2020-2021 school year, turnout on the first day was 84%. Last year, CPS started the distance learning school year. The number of visitors on the first day decreased by 10% compared to previous years.
‘Chris’, 19 years old
‘Chris’, now 19, committed his first carjacking when he was 15. His sentences focused on areas such as the north side and “neighborhoods with a low crime rate but like rich people,” he said.
He also tracks the police, looking for gaps in service, “Which area is slowest on police cars passing by.”
Chris said he carjacked drivers to drive around town. But there is another deadly reason. What he calls hot cars are often used in drive-by shootings.
Sargent: “Has there been a time when you used a hot car for retaliation against an enemy or gang-related?”
‘Chris’: “That is a sensitive subject. I was in a situation where a hot car was involved.”
Chris said he recently stopped carjacking. His mother found out what he was doing and kicked him out. He also became a father.
“She told me to get together and be there for your son. That’s what really changed me,” he said.
The past and the future
“Nicole” and “David” said their families were unfortunate examples.
“To watch my brothers go in and out of jail for this sort of thing,” said Nicole.
“I have relatives who do the same,” David said. He says that played a role in the car thefts.
Mohammed is trying to change the path of teenagers by giving them jobs on construction sites, working with local businesses, pastors and lawmakers. But is that enough to make kids like ‘David’ and ‘Nicole’ successful?
“Absolutely not. Not without positioning the right mentors.” Because the moment those young people are interrupted by feelings, anger and frustration about life, they go back to what they know,” Mohammed said.
Although David’ and ‘Nicole’ haven’t reached the point where they want to stop carjacking, they’re still talking about big dreams.
‘Nicole’ wants to be a doctor. ‘Working in the UIC hospital or something. Taking care of people or saving lives,” she said. What does she say to people who are skeptical? How would she show that she wants to change? “Finish high school and go to college,” she said.
‘David’ wants to own a car dealership and thinks he can.
Reverend Robin Hood knows stories of these kinds of children well. He coaches teenage carjackers and often works with Mohammed.
“They are not mature enough to see the whole picture, as we would like them to do. They don’t see that they can kill anyone. They don’t see it, they can go to jail for the rest of their lives,’ Reverend Hood said.
But right now, many disagree. They want them locked up and they won’t even sympathize with the youngest children when they come up with such a serious threat.
‘David’: “Look, I’m not shooting them. When they fight back, I like to drag them out of the car and get in extra fast.”
Sargent: It’s just having that tension again that would make you do it again?
This is not the end of the conversation. It is a multi-layered issue with many opinions. CBS 2 will spend the coming weeks exploring the complexity of this wave of carjackings, and in particular those committed by teens like ‘David’, ‘Nicole’ and ‘Chris’.
You can also watch an in-depth discussion on Facebook about this story with CBS News’ 48 Hours’ Irika Sargent and Erin Moriarty. here.