Has carjacking become a teenage fad? (Update)

When I came across this story today, I immediately thought of Mohammad Anwar, the Uber driver who was killed during an attempted carjacking by two teenage girls age 13 and 15.


That disturbing case wasn’t a one off. In fact, carjackings have been up in cities across the country in the last couple years. And in a surprising number of cases the carjackers were teenagers. Here’s a recent incident from Chicago which involved an 11-year-old.

The NY Times reports this trend may in fact be the equivalent of a game, something teens have turned to during the pandemic. The story opens with the case of Tariq Majeed who was carjacked by a teenager while cleaning a car for his detailing business.

“I honestly believe it’s a game,” Mr. Majeed said. Stolen cars used to be stripped down, with the parts sold for cash, he said. Now people are carjacked, and the cars are often found afterward, crashed or just left on the street. “It’s a game.”…

There are reasons carjacking may have begun proliferating even as robbery rates dropped in 2020: Push-button ignitions have made it harder to operate cars without getting the keys from the driver; supply chain problems boosted the price of used cars as millions found themselves in economic straits; and the pandemic ushered in an army of delivery workers, often stopping in unfamiliar neighborhoods. Ride-share drivers, the police said, have been summoned, then robbed on arrival.

But none of this fully explains what officials say is the most troubling part of the trend: the ages of so many who have been arrested. Fourteen-year-olds12-year-olds, even 11-year-olds have been charged with armed carjacking or in some cases murder.


As with nearly every fad that takes hold of teens these days, some of it is likely the result of social media. During the lockdowns, social media became the only place many teens could interact and that prompted some to look for ways to make their videos go viral.

“The internet just took over,” one 16-year-old boy at E.L. Haynes said. “Everybody tried to go viral, doing stupid stuff.”

The boy, who like other classmates did not want to be named, said that in the early days of the pandemic, he had heard that guys on the street were stealing cars to bring in some money. Then young people started doing it, he said, at first jumping into cars that were left idling and unattended and just driving around. Videos of these rides around the city started showing up on social media.

Before long, “carjacking became a sport,” said one community organizer. “A big bandwagon,” said another.

The pandemic may have created the conditions that led to this fad but lockdowns have been over for months and the fad continues. This isn’t being driven by the pandemic so much as it’s being driven by out of control teens looking for a thrill. Many of the readers of the Times‘ article were making the point that part of the problem is the lack of consequences.

  • “Carjacking is on the rise because there are no consequences. I’m tired of criminals having all the rights, and the rest of us just have to live in fear. Tired of the excuses for criminal behavior.”
  • “When actions have no consequences this is the end result.”
  • “There are zero consequences for stealing a car in Oregon—the person can just claim they “thought” they had permission to take it. There are some, but barely, consequences for carjacking.”

Other readers pointed toward parents who aren’t doing their job as parents.

Yes, our society has let down these kids with limited opportunities and no after school programs, as covered by this article. That said, where are the parents? And ultimately, how are we going to hold these kids responsible? They are making terrible decisions and people in the community are suffering. Everyone struggled during COVID, but only a small group of young kids (I’m assuming almost all boys) decided to go out and commit armed robbery. Let’s not absolve them of their criminal acts.

This is the top comment, from a woman in southern California:

Well, the youth are certainly in crisis. But the idea that the pandemic is driving little children to callous, murderous acts is absurd on its face. As the article itself points out, pandemic restrictions were dropped in most places a long time ago and carjackings persist. I will never in my life shake the sickness in my belly I felt after watching the video of the DC carjackers who killed the Uber driver. After stealing his car and killing him, one of the teen girls wails that she left her cell phone in his car and she needs to go back and get it. No reaction to what she had done or to the lifeless body of the man she had just killed lying in the street. She just wanted her cell phone back. Something is seriously broken in parts of our American culture and we need to have an honest discussion about what it is.


And one more who echoed that sentiment from a man in Washington, DC:

By any reasonable measure, I was a hellion in my teenage years. You name it, I did it, and it was a miracle I turned out as decently as i did.

But let me tell you: 4th of July 2019 I witnessed a level of teenage debauchery in Washington, D.C. that astonished even this former maniac, likely on the same blocks in this article. My wife and I came upon a large group of D.C. teens having an all-out fireworks battle in the street, and unfortunately we were stuck in the middle. Now, I don’t mean just roman candles – which is an antic I myself used to get up to with friends. No, these kids were shooting full on mortar fireworks out of tubes at each other. The scene was something out of the trenches of WWI. No cops in sight, cars damaged left and right, one on fire, people running as fast as they could to get off of that block. And us stuck in our car in the middle. The level of property damage and risk to life and limb was too much even for me, someone exceptionally tolerant of teenage nonsense. They were having the time of their lives, and destroying everything around them in a simulated war zone.

The kids are not alright, and it predates the pandemic.

He’s got a point. Lots of kids were bored during the pandemic. The teens who used knives and guns to steal cars for a thrill have problems that go way beyond needing more after school programs.


Update: Here’s a local news report on the carjacking trend in New Orleans which matches what’s described in the story above.

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