By Irika Sargent and Carol Thompson
CHICAGO (CBS) — Chicago faces a carjacking crisis.
The city is on pace to top last year’s numbers. You’ve heard from victims of those crimes. You’ve heard from police and community leaders trying to prevent those crimes.
But, for the first time you’re hearing from some of the youngest carjackers committing those crimes. They talk about why they do it, how they do it and what it will take to get them to stop.
Three teens sat down with CBS 2’s Irika Sargent for a candid conversation.
We’re giving them a voice, not to glamorize to take advantage of them, but to understand why they do it. Could what they say help you stay safe?
‘David’ is 14 years old.
“If they fight back, I drag them out of the car and get in,” he said.
‘Nicole’ is 16 with a long list of carjackings on her record.
“I’d say like six. I don’t know. I don’t count. (laughs)”
There could be hundreds of teens in Chicago looking for their next victims. We know from Chicago Police data CBS 2 received through a public records request that police arrested 50 kids 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 talked with him over the summer. He told us he didn’t have any regrets after committing his first carjacking.
Anyone anywhere can be carjacked. It’s happening in dark alleys, busy parking lots, even steps away from your front door.
Victims described their carjackers: “I could just feel her hands around my neck.” And “…leaned over into 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’ve been tracking a surge in carjackings for two years with many victims shocked at the age of their attackers.
The wife of a man shot dead when teens 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 beaten to death by teens said, “It makes no sense to me.”
Chicago Police have expanded its carjacking task force twice already this year. However, without much success. Through the end of September, CPD has made arrests in just 73 of 1,203 carjackings. That’s an under 6% arrest rate.
The arrest data reveals 54% of those arrested for carjackings (January through April) were 17 years old or younger.
Until now, you haven’t heard from young carjackers on what motivates them to commit these crimes, how they choose their targets and if anything will make them stop.
CBS 2 set up a room to speak with the three teens. CBS 2 set it up in a way 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 to it?”
‘David’: “The game. GTA.”
GTA is the longstanding, popular video game, Grand Theft Auto.
‘David’: “If you don’t got a car on there, you can just take the car from people. It looked fun. I wanted to do it.”
Sargent: “Take me back that first time.”
‘David’: “Me and my friends, three of us, we was walking and I told ‘em ‘Let’s take a car.’ We saw a man and we just ran and stuck him up and got in the car and drove off.”
Sargent: “Did he seem scared, shocked to see someone so young doing it?”
Sargent: “Would you say that it was easy?”
He says getting the gun was also simple.
‘David’: “People on Facebook and stuff. They sell guns.”
Sargent: “So you were able to buy a weapon off Facebook?”
Sargent: “And do you find a lot of kids your age do that?”
‘Nicole’ is 16 Years Old
‘Nicole’ carjacks for different reasons.
‘Nicole’: “I had some place to go and I didn’t have a way there. Sometimes I even sell a car, like get a car just to get money.”
She says being a girl works in her favor.
‘Nicole’: “They wouldn’t probably expect a younger aged female to be out here carjacking.”
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 back out and back to carjacking.
Sargent: “Is this something that you still are doing?”
“In my mind there is no child that is irredeemable,” 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,” Muhammad said.
Now he runs a mentoring group called Ex-Cons for Community & Social Change (ECCSC). The goal? To stop teens from landing behind bars, using his own life as a cautionary tale. Does mentoring work?
“If you don’t replace their activity with something constructive., where they can see themselves making a living, then you’ll never fix this problem,” Muhammad said.
And there’s a lot of work to be done.
CBS2 has been tracking carjackings in Chicago. With 1,203 carjackings so far in 2021, this year is on track to top last year’s number of 1,414.
These two years together have already netted more carjackings than the pervious three years combined. 2,617 compared to 2,307. Nearly every neighborhood has been hit.
The five hardest hit communities so far this year:
- Austin, 93
- Garfield Park, 75
- North Lawndale, 75
- Humboldt Park, 47
- South Shore, 44
‘Nicole’ often targets the Loop where there have been 11 carjackings this year. That’s two more than last year.
Sargent: “What about that area makes it a prime spot?”
‘Nicole’ says it’s all about how people act, “They will think that it’s like more safer for them…like they don’t have to worry about nobody running up on them.”
Sargent: “Have you ever hurt someone?”
‘Nicole’: ”No. No. It hasn’t got that far.”
Though, she admits it can quickly escalate.
Sargent: “People are losing their lives because of this. People are paralyzed because of this. Do you think of the victims?”
‘Nicole’: “I want to say yeah. But like in that moment you might not be thinking.”
Remote Learning Impact
With the increased carjackings over the past two years, could remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic be partially to blame?
‘Nicole’ says, “I would sometimes go to school and sometimes I won’t. If I’m feeling it or not.”
She adds, “If I was like doing the in-person school, then it would be less of me like thinking to go carjack somebody.”
‘David’ says he also didn’t take remote learning “…that serious.” He says he was “bored.” And, had more time on his hands to commit a carjacking.
And, recently released first day attendance numbers from Chicago Public Schools back up what ‘Nicole’ and ‘David’ said.
For the 2020-2021 school year, first day attendance was 84%. Last year, CPS started the school year remote learning. First day attendance numbers dropped 10% drop from previous years.
‘Chris’, 19 Years Old
‘Chris’, now 19, committed his first carjacking at 15. His sights set on areas like the north side and “Neighborhoods that have low crime rate but like wealthy people,” he said.
He also tracks the police, looking for gaps in service, “Which area is the slowest on police cars coming around.”
Chris said he has carjacked drivers just to ride around the city. But there’s 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 with an enemy or gang-related?”
‘Chris’: “That’s touchy topic. I have been in a situation where a hot car was involved.”
Chris said he recently stopped carjacking. His mother discovered what he was doing and kicked him out. He also became a father.
“She told me get yourself together and you’ll be able to be here 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.
“Seeing my brothers go in and out of jail for this type of stuff,” said ‘Nicole’.
“I got family members that are also doing the same thing,” said ‘David’. He says that played a role in him carjacking.
Muhammad tries to change teens’ paths by getting them jobs at construction sites, partnering with local businesses, pastors and legislators. But is that enough to make kids like ‘David’ and ‘Nicole’ successful?
“Absolutely not. Not without right mentors being positioned. ‘Cuz the moment those young people are interrupted by feelings, anger, frustration with life they’ll go back to what they know,” said Muhammad.
While David’ and ‘Nicole’ haven’t reached a point where they want to stop carjacking, they still talk of big dreams.
‘Nicole’ wants to be a doctor. “Working in 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 them she wants to change? “Graduate high school and go to college,” she said.
‘David’ wants to own his own car dealership and feels he can accomplish that.
Reverend Robin Hood knows stories of kids like these well. He mentors teen carjackers and often partners with Muhammad.
“They’re not mature enough to see the whole picture, like we would love for them to do. They don’t see they can kill somebody. They don’t see, they can go to jail the rest of their life,” said Rev. Hood.
But, at this point, many don’t agree with that. They want them locked up and they won’t have sympathy for even the youngest children when they come with such a serious threat.
‘David’: “See, I won’t shoot them. If they fight back, I like, drag them out of the car and get in extra fast.”
Sargent: It’s just having that thrill again that’s what would make you do it again?
This is not the end of the conversation. It’s a multi-layered issue with a lot of opinions. CBS 2 is committed in the coming weeks to exploring the complexities of this surge in carjackings and specifically those carjackings committed by teenagers like ‘David’, ‘Nicole’ and ‘Chris’.
You can also watch an in-depth discussion on Facebook about this story with Irika Sargent and Erin Moriarty from CBS News’ 48 Hours here.