Crime in the United States is a growing issue overall, but there is a subsection that requires more of our attention. Juveniles are becoming heavily involved with violent, non-violent, and drug- and gang-related crimes. The nation’s capital is struggling to stop 15- and 16-year-olds from committing carjackings and shooting one another. And DC is not alone. New York, Atlanta, Houston, and even the suburbs are flooded with headlines featuring the words “teen” and “arrested” followed by “crime” or “shooting.” But what’s the cause? Is it a lack of parental guidance, and absence respect for authority, a dearth of positive opportunities, or inadequate school discipline?
Police chiefs, local and state officials, and grieving parents are sounding an alarm on juvenile crime. From the east to the west coast and everywhere in between, teens are getting locked up in the cities and suburbs. Carjackings, shootings, theft – you name it, kids are doing it.
Washington, DC, has arguably the biggest problem with teens making national news, as a slew of carjacking kids have been on the run for weeks. Since the pandemic, occurrences have surged, and the perpetrators don’t care who falls victim. Earlier this year, a woman with autism was assaulted and had her keys ripped from her hand by two 15-year-olds who then drove off in her Honda Civic. Just last summer, the entire country was heartbroken by the murder of an Uber Eats driver in a carjacking gone wrong. In 2021, 100 teens were arrested for carjacking, and crime analysts expect 2022 to beat be even worse.
But teens aren’t the only ones committing the crimes; they’re also victims. On May 9 in Detroit, a massive fight involving 20 people, primarily teenagers, resulted in four getting shot. Another 17-year-old was shot in Queens, New York, on May 11, and, in the Bronx, a juvenile was ambushed and killed outside a deli on the same day. Three teens were fatally shot in Corona, California, on May 12.
These are just a few recent instances. With a simple internet search, one can see dozens of local station headlines detailing the murder, arrest, or shooting of a teenager. Many of these horror stories are robberies gone south, others are gang-related, and some are simple fistfights turned bloodbath. Yet, almost no major news organization acknowledges the daily occurrences of crimes involving juveniles. Why is that?
Experts speculate on the cause or trigger for juvenile delinquency. For carjackings, some say it’s plainly for entertainment and the thrill. Joyriding in a stolen ride, posting on Snapchat and Twitter, and bragging to friends might make it seem like such a great idea to some. DC Police Chief Robert Contee said, “while they’re being pursued by police, they’re live-streaming themselves laughing.” He plans on bringing the hammer down on young kids who think they’re living in a “video game.” But laughing, running from the police, with what seems like not a care in the world – isn’t that strange? Shouldn’t these kids be afraid of getting caught, being arrested, and getting locked up? Therein lies another problem.
Many teens do not fear or respect the police. Some criminal experts attribute the “Defund the Police” narrative as a contributing factor to juvenile crime. But that absent respect for authority is prevalent in the classroom and at home, too. Political expert Armstrong Williams believes the root of the cause lies in the home. Parents are “not allowed to discipline their children,” nor do many pay close attention to, and act upon, behavioral issues.
Williams also points the finger at prosecutorial policies that “created an environment where law enforcement doesn’t matter.” Why would kids fear the consequences if they hear about their buddy getting busted robbing a 7-Eleven only to see him on the streets again just a few weeks later?
How Do We Fix This?
Another potential cause is one that advocates, government officials, and school administrators certainly can fix. The pandemic and budget cuts killed after-school programs, sports, and community events that kept many kids out of trouble. All the hard work advocates poured into keeping middle- and high-schoolers off the streets and into positive development programs was washed away by the lockdowns.
Criminal justice experts say sports and educational programs are viable alternatives to getting sucked into violent crime. Where are they getting this from? The kids themselves. At-risk youth counseled through a Washington, DC, program shared with their mentors this very problem, with one mentor saying, “when they were younger, they had this and that. But now they don’t have nothing [sic] to do during the day, so they always get caught up in things that are not productive or safe.”
Other youth advocacy groups across the country are hearing the same thing, that kids fall into negative behavior based on peer pressure because they simply have nothing else to do. Cities like our nation’s capital are just now letting go of the pandemic restrictions that cut arts programs or shut down the soccer or football leagues. The great news is that this cause of teens getting wrapped up in the wrong after-school activities is fixable. Teenagers need something to look forward to, something they enjoy, like a team or program they love so much they’ll put in the work to participate, including going to school. Teens won’t be stealing catalytic converters, stripping tires, or stealing cars at noon on a Tuesday if they’re in class. And they’ll be in class if they want to be on the school’s football team.
At-risk kids need guidance and opportunity. But when the only after-school activity being offered in their town that doesn’t require wearing a mask is hanging out with the local gang members or joyriding in a stolen BMW, this behavior should come as no surprise, especially if their home lives are rough.