Teen carjackers are playing a deadly game

Like many of us, my teenage years weren’t entirely law-abiding. I’ll cop to tee-peeing houses, egging cars, and even buying beer while underage, but none of my youthful indiscretions involved a violent crime of any sort. That’s the case for the vast majority of us, but it’s also an undeniable truth that we are seeing a lot more teenagers (and even pre-teens) taking part in a very violent and potentially deadly activity these days: carjacking.


The New York Times has a new report that offers a grim perspective on the growing number of teenagers who are getting their kicks by stealing cars at gunpoint; a 400% increase in such crimes in Philadelphia since 2019, nearly 2,000 carjackings reported in Chicago last year, and more than one carjacking a day in our nation’s capitol. Across the country, not only are these crimes becoming more common, but the average age of the criminal suspects is getting younger.

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.

“They are children,” Robert J. Contee III, chief of Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department, said at a news conference in early February about a carjacking task force formed with the police in a neighboring county. “The fact that between Prince George’s County and D.C. we have over 200 young people that committed a carjacking is staggering to me.”


Only a tiny fraction of less than 1% of teenagers are engaged in this type of activity, and many of them are well known to law enforcement, which should help law enforcement use targeted deterrence strategies to concentrate resources on the most prolific offenders.

In Washington, D.C. and many other cities, however, Democratic politicians are still arguing amongst themselves over how tough they should be getting on these violent teen offenders. D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine has been pushing back against criticism by Mayor Muriel Bowser and others that the criminal justice system isn’t doing anything to prevent these teens from quickly returning to the streets even after they’ve been arrested,

The mayor and the police chief say that there is too little accountability and that young people who are arrested on carjacking charges are often right back out in the community. Of the 151 carjacking arrests in 2021, police officials said, 85 involved juveniles with prior criminal records.

Mr. Racine has pushed back, explaining at a recent public hearing that a vast majority of teenagers charged with carjacking in the past year had no carjacking arrests on their records. There should be a focus on preventing recidivism, he said, but the problems driving this run deeper.

“You can do all you want and even lock up everyone who commits a crime,” Mr. Racine said. “I’m here to tell you there is a long line of tomorrow’s crime that’s coming up, because of the reasons below the iceberg.”


By all means, try to address the root causes of violence, including unemployment, failing schools, and absent parents. But you can’t ignore the individuals who are committing these violent crimes, and yes, the goal should absolutely be to lock up everyone convicted of a violent crime. If Karl Racine doesn’t agree, he should be looking for a new line of work. I hear criminal defense attorneys can make a pretty good living.

While Democratic officials may not be in agreement on what to do about the growing number of teenage carjackers, it’s a safe bet that the vast majority of them don’t like the idea of adult drivers being able to protect and defend themselves with a gun of their own. And yet, with these kinds of crime becoming more common, these teens should be aware that their stupid games can have consequences outside of the criminal justice system, including being shot by their intended victims.

If Democrats can’t get on the same page when it comes to prosecuting young violent offenders, maybe they can at least join together and put out a PSA reminding these teens that they’re taking their own life in their hands every time they try to take a stranger’s car at gunpoint.

As for those of us just trying to get from Point A to Point B without becoming the victim of a violent crime, I’d suggest having a gun for self-defense and being proficient and comfortable in using it. Hopefully it never comes to that, but given the brutal murders of unarmed victims that we’ve seen in recent weeks, it’s far better to have a gun and not need it than to need one and not have it.


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