Carjackings show that, despite pandemic’s economic toll, parents must watch their kids

Carjackings show that, despite pandemic’s economic toll, parents must watch their kids

Chicago police at the scene Dec. 3 of an attempted carjacking during which Dwain Williams, a 67-year-old retired Chicago firefighter, was shot and killed after drawing a gun on the would-be carjackers in the 2400 block of West 118th Street in Morgan Park. | Tyler LaRiviere / Sun-Times

With carjackings skyrocketing and the primary offenders being young people, it must be because there is a severe lack of supervision in too many homes.

Recently, I switched cars with a sister when I traveled out of state to care for a family member.

When I called to find out how things were going, I was surprised to learn that she had not picked up my car because she was reluctant to drive it.

No amount of assurances could convince her to get behind the wheel of my late-model luxury car. She was too afraid it would be a magnet for carjackers roaming the streets.

Such is the impact the city’s alarming numbers of carjackings is having on some of us.

Last year, there were 1,417 carjackings. The police made 1,217 arrests in carjacking-related crimes, according to police Supt. David Brown.

This year, there have been “144 carjackings, and police arrested 104 suspects and recovered 611 guns,” Brown said.

No one wants to be a victim of carjackers. Most of us have car insurance, so, if the stolen vehicle is not recovered, the insurer will replace it. But it’s the guns that concern me and my sister.

A significant number of carjackers have been between 15 and 20 years old, according to the police.

The trauma of being confronted by a child waving a gun is enough to give someone a heart attack, and then what was a horrible decision suddenly becomes a homicide.

Youth are thrill-seekers by nature, and most do not fully understand the consequences of getting involved in this type of crime. Besides risking being charged with a felony, these young people could end up killing someone in a vehicular accident.

And if the young carjacker shoots the car’s owner, it’s more than likely that an adult put the weapon in his hands. They know the court system will not treat a teen as harshly as it would an adult.

But young people need to understand: Snatching someone’s car might seem like fun in the moment. But then what’s going to happen when the police arrest you and your parent, already suffering from the economic hardships of COVID-19, has to scrape up the money for bail and lawyer’s fees?

Brown is calling on everyone — “teachers, mentors, coaches, parents, the faith community — to help.”

He’s preaching to the choir.

With carjackings skyrocketing and the primary offenders being young people, it must be because there is a severe lack of supervision in too many homes.

We can blame the pandemic for that. Some parents had to make the tough choice of leaving their children alone while they went to their “essential” jobs.

That was unfortunate.

There’s no shortage of mischief teenagers can get into when they are home alone and not involved in something constructive.

With the lengthy lockdown of churches, youth recreational facilities, in-class learning and after-school activities, it is a miracle that things aren’t a lot worse.

Don’t take this the wrong way. COVID-19 is not an excuse for bad behavior.

As the killing of a retired firefighter, Dwain Williams, showed, there is very little we can do to protect ourselves from a scrum of armed teenagers. Williams drew his weapon, and the carjackers fatally shot him.

As Brown points out, it’s only a matter of time before a teenager is killed in the act of a carjacking.

City officials need to figure out ways to help working parents provide the supervision that vulnerable teens need.

Those teenagers who have violated their community and the city in this way have to be held accountable. Otherwise, the number of carjackings will continue to climb.

And adults who recruit teens to join a car-theft ring should face enhanced criminal charges.

Because criminal justice reform is at the top of the political agenda right now, legislators will be reluctant to call for stiffer penalties when young people are involved.

But carjacking is no joke.

If a young person is guilty of violently taking someone’s car, the punishment has to fit the crime.

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