The dangerous and deadly trend in Columbus of teenagers stealing Kias and Hyundais has unfortunately been on an upward slope since January. Many of these teens are part of a gang known as “The Real Kia Boys,” which originated in Milwaukee. Youth in other states have adopted this moniker due to the popularity of these car thefts growing on TikTok, YouTube and Instagram. On these social media platforms, there are videos with instructions on how to steal Kias and Hyundais using USB chargers.
The cars that have been stolen are newer models, and according to a Columbus CBS news report in June, overall thefts have increased by 1,000 compared to last year. One-third of these thefts involve Kias and Hyundais, and this uptick in crime has made owners of these models feel extremely vulnerable, since many of the vehicles have been stolen during the day. Law enforcement is stretched thin with resources for investigations, and their advice to purchase steering-wheel locks or aftermarket alarm systems hasn’t provided much assurance.
What has been particularly heartbreaking for me to watch are pleas from parents for help with their sons who are involved. About a week ago, I caught a late-night news interview of a mother and father who literally begged police to arrest their 14-year-old son.
“I called the cops on my son; they let him run out of the house,” the mother said. She was very remorseful and apologized to car theft victims, saying that she and her husband raised their son to be respectful. She also mentioned that her son has tried to get support from a behavioral juvenile center but was turned away because he was not deemed a risk to commit suicide. He has now been arrested, and his parents are hoping he gets the professional help he needs to get off the wayward path he is currently on.
Stories like this make watching the nightly news akin to reading online police reports. Mug shots of young Black boys flash across television screens who have not only stolen cars but committed serious violent crimes. This week two teens, ages 15 and 16, were charged in the fatal shootings of two Columbus residents. In August, a 16-year-old murder suspect was arrested by the Columbus Police SWAT, and four suspects, one 21 years old and the remaining three 18, were charged with aggravated robbery.
I have wondered what pushed these young men into crime. What were the disconnects at home and at school? Was peer pressure a dominant influencing factor? Do they have fathers or father figures in their lives? In the case of the 14-year-old arrested in connection with the Kia Boys in Columbus, it was painfully obvious in his parents’ interview that his father felt powerless to get through to him.
Many of the boys involved in the Kia and Hyundai thefts are repeat offenders for nonviolent crimes, and detention centers do not keep them for long periods of time. With kids being released from the juvenile justice system quickly, it’s no surprise that many nonchalantly go back to crime with no fear of severe repercussions.
I believe that the juvenile justice system needs to become more involved with parents in connecting them to programs and services that are needed to help delinquent youth reform their ways.
I also believe that these young men need to have what I call a “come to themselves” moment, like the one in the parable of the prodigal son. Now, the youth ensnared in crime that I have seen on the news in Columbus have little in common with the young man in the prodigal son story, mainly because they are not from wealthy families.
However, Christ mentions that this young man “came to himself” when he hit rock bottom, which for him was hunger and acute poverty. He came to the spiritual revelation that his life was worth much more than what he had become.
The young men involved in these crime sprees in Columbus need to have this same type of soulful reflection. They need to know that their lives are meaningful in God’s sight and that they can turn things around with the proper guidance, mentorship and most importantly, a sincere will to change. They need a vital wake-up call before it’s too late.
Dr. Jessica A. Johnson is a lecturer in the English department at The Ohio State University-Lima. Reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter @JjSmojc. Her opinion does not necessarily represent the views of The Lima News or its owner, AIM Media.