AMAC Exclusive – by Shane Harris
Over the past year, crime rates have spiked throughout the country, particularly in densely populated urban areas like Atlanta, Chicago, and New York City. Last summer’s spree of violent riots and looting seems to have gradually given way to an disconcerting new normal of blatant criminal activity in places like San Francisco, where thieves rob stores in broad daylight without fear of reprisal. But while any rise in crime is alarming, this latest surge is particularly disturbing because it appears to be significantly driven by juveniles, with high school and even middle school-aged kids committing crimes usually perpetrated by hardened criminals.
The trend is perhaps most clearly seen through the rise in carjackings, which have soared in nearly every major city. In Washington, D.C., the number of carjackings was up nearly 74% as of earlier this summer. In one shocking example from the nation’s capital this past June, bystanders captured footage of an incident where two girls aged just 15 and 13 attempted to steal a car from the Navy Yard area of the city, normally a relatively safe neighborhood, in the middle of the afternoon. The two teens attempted to use a stun gun on the driver of the car, a Pakistani immigrant named Mohammed Anwar. In the ensuing struggle, the vehicle accelerated, hitting several trees and parked cars before flipping over and killing Mr. Anwar.
More recently, D.C. police arrested a pair of 13-year old boys in connection with a string of armed carjackings, alleging that the teens repeatedly threatened drivers with a firearm. The problem has gotten so bad that metro PD has even deployed “bait cars” in an attempt to catch repeat teen offenders.
It’s even worse in Chicago, with total carjackings surpassing 1,000 as of late August after the city saw 1,400 carjackings in 2020. According to one officer on the Chicago Police Department’s vehicular hijacking task force, the average age for carjackers in the city is between 14 and 25. In one tragic incident from Chicago earlier this year, a 65 year-old retired firefighter was shot dead in broad daylight by four individuals attempting to steal his car. The youngest person charged in that crime was just 15 years old.
Similar stories have played out in other major cities throughout the country. In New Orleans, auto thefts are up 173% since 2019. As late as May of this year, Minneapolis was averaging one carjacking per day.
In some cases, stolen cars have been used to commit other crimes, and are one indication of a rise in violent juvenile crime generally. In New Britain, Connecticut, for example, one 17 year-old stole a car before killing a jogger in a hit-and-run. When police arrested the suspect, they found that he had been arrested 13 times in the past three and a half years – a startling escalation that has led some communities to rethink punishments for juvenile offenders.
Teen carjackings aren’t the only crime that has been on the rise recently, either. Just this week, police arrested two teens aged 15 and 16 in connection with the murder of a 16 year-old girl in Lafayette, Louisiana, three teenagers in Trenton, New Jersey involved in non-fatal shootings, and two 16 year-old boys seen fleeing the scene of a shooting in Memphis, Tennessee. The list goes on.
Exact numbers on just how many crimes are committed by juveniles are difficult to establish, as such data is often shielded by state and local officials, and privacy laws for persons under the age of 18 prevent such information from being readily available. However, comments from law enforcement on the ground in affected cities and experts in the field of criminal justice are telling, and perhaps provide some insight as to the causes for the apparent rise in juvenile crime.
Earlier this year, for example, the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), a think tank focused on law enforcement issues throughout the country, cited COVID-related school closures as a potential reason for the spike, telling the Washington Post that “with many schools closed for in-person education, school-aged youths with free time — some as young as 12-15 — are committing a large portion of the increase in carjackings.” In Chicago, Vondale Singleton, the founder of a program dedicated to helping at-risk youth through extracurricular programs, also cited pandemic closures as a potential cause for the increases in youth crime in a comment to NPR, saying, “When they’re in our care, we don’t have or see these incidents of violence of crime or disrespect because we know how to treat these young men; we know how to educate and talk [with them].”
While it may seem a poor excuse to break the law, pandemic-induced boredom is likely a real contributor to rising youth crime. Without the structure of school, sports, and in-person programs to keep kids occupied, many young people, especially those in high-risk situations, have turned to crime as a source of entertainment. One Baltimore police officer described stealing cars as a sort of “sport” among local teens. In Chicago, a teen carjacker admitted that he first got the idea to steal cars after playing the popular video game Grand Theft Auto. This phenomenon often leaves kids from low-income families, whose parents often have to work multiple jobs just to make ends meet, going for long periods of time without any adult supervision or guidance, only adding to the likelihood that they become involved in criminal activity.
Local law enforcement officials have additionally pointed to a breakdown in the juvenile criminal justice system as a catalyst for rising numbers of youth offenders, describing how young people no longer fear punishment for crimes thanks to lax sentencing guidelines implemented in recent years and covid restrictions forcing courts and juvenile correctional facilities to release many inmates early. In Connecticut, for example, former Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy lowered the maximum sentence for juveniles from 36 months to 18 months, even as he raised the juvenile age from 16 to 18. Predictably, youth crime rates soared. A similar pattern has played out in other Democrat-controlled states and cities as well. As the top police official in New Orleans put it, “the wheels of justice just aren’t moving like they did pre-covid.”
In the absence of any coordinated effort from the Biden administration to combat or even commission a study on the youth crime epidemic, some local communities have tried to find solutions on their own. In Rocky Hill, Connecticut, local leaders launched a petition last month calling for a special session of the state legislature to address juvenile crime. Two police departments close to the community also created a joint task force to examine the issue and work together to catch offenders. However, the Democratic-controlled Connecticut legislature declined to address the issue in a special session last week.
While most of the national media by and large appear reluctant to report on the issue thus far, there is little doubt that communities large and small throughout the country are concerned. The energy and spirit of America’s youth will be critical in helping the country fully recover from covid, face down economic hardship, and address the litany of other crises looming on the horizon, and people are accordingly right to fear losing an entire generation of young people to a culture of violence and crime. Whatever the underlying causes that are contributing to the evident rise in youth crime, political and community leaders have a responsibility to address the issue and provide these troubled kids the help they need – lest they become their next victims.
We hope you've enjoyed this article. While you're here, we have a small favor to ask...
As we prepare for what promises to be a pivotal year for America, we're asking you to consider a gift to help fund our journalism and advocacy.
The need for fact-based reporting that offers real solutions and stops the spread of misinformation has never been greater. Now more than ever, journalism and our first amendment rights are under fire. That's why AMAC is passionately working to increase the number of real news articles we deliver WEEKLY, while continuing to strengthen our presence on Capitol Hill.
AMAC Action, a 501 (C)(4), advocates to protect American values, free speech, the exercise of religion, equality of opportunity, sanctity of life, the rule of law, and love of family.
Thank you for putting your faith in AMAC!Donate Now