When my parents handed me the keys to my first car, I was overjoyed. The freedom of having four wheels that could take me all around the city anytime I wanted was something I had been dreaming of since I was a kid. I remember watching childhood movies set in high school where the juniors and seniors would pull up to school and hang out around their cars. I replicated the same scene in the parking lot of Whitney Young along with many of my friends and their four wheels flaunting names like Ford, Chevy, Jeep, and even Tesla.
I think back to that time in high school where life seemed a little simpler. My biggest worries were my ACT score, the amount of likes on my Instagram post, and how long I could stretch the gas in my tank. But Chicago is changing, and my worries are too.
COVID-19 has affected Chicago in many different ways, but crime has been at the forefront of discussion. Due to citywide lockdowns, job loss, family loss, and online schooling, the crime that plagues this beautiful city has increased and changed as well. According to WGN, there have been over 750 reported carjackings in the first seven months of 2021 which is remarkably close to the 1,413 incidents that were reported last year. In the past year, I went from stressing about knowing how to parallel park to stressing about being carjacked.
Some of these carjackings are also fatal which makes young people more weary of driving late at night and being in their own neighborhoods which are overrun with violence and gang activity. Carjackings have even invaded areas like the Gold Coast and Beverly which are supposed to be safer due to the sheer amount of white people living there.
We can’t escape it anymore. It’s not enough to live in a nicer neighborhood or not go to the problematic areas of the city. The crime is literally everywhere and anyone can be a victim of it.
A story that resonated with me was the fatal shooting of retired Chicago Fire Lt. Dwain Williams in an attempted carjacking earlier this year. Williams was leaving the popcorn shop, “Let’s Get Poppin’, a storefront I pass multiple times in my four wheels during the week, when he was confronted by four individuals who then started shooting at him. Williams shielded himself by his vehicle and returned shots from his own firearm, but later passed away from a wound. Four suspects were later arrested, according to Law Enforcement Today.
As I watched the surveillance video of the incident, I can only pay attention to the novelty red nose and reindeer ears on Williams’ four wheels. They were a festive addition to his vehicle which personally showed me how much he cared to bring joy around with him on his daily trips around Chicago. He wanted to embody the happiness of the holidays everywhere he went.
It breaks my heart to know that the joy and happiness that came with having those unique four wheels was taken from Williams. He didn’t deserve to be killed over those four wheels, he deserved to go back home to his family and life. He deserved to go back to nurturing the Chicago community and giving back to others. It’s unfair that he didn’t get that chance to live his life to its fullest potential.
As someone with four wheels too, Williams’ fate is an extremely scary possibility while living in Chicago. But, a 19-year-old shouldn’t have to feel this way. I shouldn’t have to leave my house with pepper spray and a self-defense key chain. I shouldn’t have to worry about experiencing something traumatic like being held at gunpoint or killed for my car.
I shouldn’t have to feel any of these things, but I do. That’s the reality of growing up in Chicago. It’s dangerous, scary, and not fun at all sometimes. There’s a lot of pain and trauma that resides in this city and that comes customary with living here. I hope that in the future we can get the resources that are necessary to stop the madness and return to a simpler time. A time where kids can dream of having those four wheels and teenagers can celebrate their first cars and their freedom by exploring the city.
By Kyla Hubbard, Sophomore, Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University