Teenager: I don't know how many cars I've carjacked in Chicago

(AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

It’s been obvious for some time now that Chicago has been experiencing an epic increase in carjackings, as have several other large cities around the country. By the end of August, there had already been more than 1,200 incidents reported, a 30% increase over the previous year. (September’s numbers aren’t available yet.) The spike is nearly as bad as the increase in murders and shootings that have taken place simultaneously. One alarming aspect of this trend that’s been noted by the Chicago PD is the rapidly growing number of minors who are jacking cars from drivers, with some of them being as young as eleven. CBS Chicago managed to interview one thief, a girl of fifteen going by the name of Nicole. She claims to have stolen so many cars that she couldn’t even give an estimate as to how many there were.

Nicole is a 15-year-old girl, and she doesn’t even know how many cars she has stolen by force.

She says she used a knife to take the cars from unsuspecting drivers at least six times.

“I don’t know, I don’t count,” she told CBS 2’s Irika Sargent.

In an online conversation with Erin Moriarty of CBS’s “48 Hours” previewing her reporting on the teen carjacking trend, Sargent said she found the offenders are getting younger every year—some as young as 11 years old.

It just sounds improbable that a fifteen-year-old girl with a knife could take someone’s car, doesn’t it? But if you don’t lock your doors and you’re trapped behind another vehicle at a red light (one of the most common scenarios where people are victimized) I suppose I could see how it might happen. The girl claims she has an advantage over other carjackers because people don’t tend to suspect a young girl is about to attack them.

Nicole tells CBS that she feels guilt over what she’s done and is trying to put that in the past. “I don’t want to be that person no more.”

There’s a part of me that wants to ask why she simply doesn’t stop and go back to school. But if we’re being fair, that might not be as easily done as said. If she came from a rough neighborhood with few prospects for success and grew up in a culture where gang activity and crime were just part of her world, I can see how a young person might go astray in that fashion. If anyone is to blame, it’s probably her parents (or parent) who didn’t monitor her activities and discipline her properly.

CBS interviewed other teenagers and found that the repeat offenders use carjacking as a tool for a variety of reasons. Some sell the cars for a few thousand dollars, usually to older gang members. Some use the cars in the commission of other crimes such as drive-by shootings and then abandon them. A few use them just to get around the city.

The problem is that Chicago has had an almost institutional system of violent gang activity that now spans multiple generations. When a child grows up in a household where gang membership and crime are simply accepted as a way of life, how else do we expect the story to end? Most of those kids are going to wind up either behind bars or dead before they make it very far along in life. Yes, a robust police response is required to get the situation back under control in the short term, but over the long run, Chicago, Baltimore, and other cities facing similar challenges need a complete change in culture. An acceptance of gang activity as a part of “normal” life and a distrust of law enforcement will continue to cultivate this situation for generations to come. How we begin to break down that wall is beyond me, but it’s the responsibility of the municipal government to at least make the effort.