The Drive For Safety: How Chicago Citizens Are Working Together to Reduce Carjackings

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By: Almerah Alkhatib, Loyola Senior; Audrey Patterson, Loyola Sophomore; and PJ MacMahon, Loyola Sophomore

46-year-old Uber driver Javier Ramos’s family is still reeling from his murder. “We are devastated. We are saddened. We are still in shock and disbelief,” says Hortenia Ramos, cousin to Javier Ramos.

Javier Ramos was killed during a carjacking and as his family continues to come to terms with the unexpected loss of their loved one. They believe ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft can do better.

“Uber and Lyft are building their empire at the cost of what, another life?” said Hortenia Ramos. She, like many others, are petitioning for better safety protocols for ridesharing services. 

Carjackings, while certainly not uncommon in Chicago, have taken a steep increase in the past year. In fact, according to police data, carjackings are up 55% in the month of March alone. One evening in January saw four carjackings occur in the Rogers Park area within the space of a few hours. Ridesharing drivers are nervous, with many refusing to return to work until better procedures are in place.

“We need safety on the job, so we know we won’t get robbed!” shouted protesters at a ridesharing rally held in April. Workers and the Chicago GIG Alliance have been petitioning Uber and Lyft for years about issues such as minimum wage and driver safety. 

Drivers’ suggestions range from working more closely with police to putting tighter requirements on riders to prove their identities such as mandating rider photos, email certification and requiring riders to show I.D. 

Uber at least seems to be listening, recently implementing new policies in an attempt to protect riders. “If someone tries to create a rider account using some anonymous form of payment, they’ll now be required to upload or provide some form of identification to go with it, whether it’s a driver’s license, a state ID, or a passport,” one Uber representative said. Uber hopes that these procedures, as well as working closely with the Chicago P.D., will help reduce the threat of carjackings. 

Despite the emphasis Uber and Lyft drivers have put on protecting themselves from carjackings, they are not the only ones to fall victim to the spike that occurred at the end of last year.

One Woman’s Story

After almost a year of being victim to an attempted carjacking, Alejandra Cortes (27) still reflects on the incident that occurred last August. 

At approximately 2:05 p.m. Alejandra went on her lunch break while accompanied by her friend. The two had no other option but to eat their lunch in Alejandra’s car, which was parked right in front of Subway on Winthrop.

Alejandra explained that while enjoying her delicious sandwich, she noticed a young man staring at her and her friend from right outside her vehicle. She chose not to pay too much attention until she saw him approach her car on the passenger side where her friend was seated.

After approaching the women, he lifted up his shirt displaying a large knife that was halfway tucked in his pants, while stating “Get out of the f****** car, or I will kill you.” Alejandra and her friend then looked towards one another in a panic, when the offender repeated “Get out of the f***** car!” with a much louder and more aggressive tone.

Shocked, Alejandra made a split second decision to swiftly put the car in reverse and speed away from the threat. After speeding away, she called the police to describe the situation, when she looked back and saw the offender fleeing the scene.

“I saw he was leaving, and I said no no no, and jumped out of the car and started running because my friend was panicking and I was full of adrenaline and wanted to see where he was going, so I could tell the police.”

Alejandra was relieved that the police arrived in less than one minute, making it easy for her to inform them where the offender fled. The police were able to arrest the man due to Alejandra’s bravery, and a report was filed against him.

To this day, Alejandra still reflects on the incident, but she does not live in fear.

“If he would’ve showed me a gun, then I would’ve gotten out of the car, but the window was half way up and he had a knife which made me feel like I had enough time to escape.”

Alejandra is still not scared to eat lunch in her car. “Things happen, and you can’t just stop living your life because of one circumstance.” Alejandra described herself as being more alert and advises residents of the Edgewater community to be observant, but to not live in fear. 

What Can Residents Do? 

Being alert to your surroundings is one of the best ways people can reduce their risk of being a victim of carjacking. Additionally, witnesses to carjackings may be useful in aiding the police in their investigation. Individuals have been advised to be on the lookout for suspicious behavior, to not leave their cars running, and to lock their car doors. 

PJ McMahon, a Loyola student, was out walking in his neighborhood in September 2020 when he was witness to a failed carjacking. 

A car was slammed into the side of a brick apartment building. Bricks scattered the street and the car was left abandoned on the sidewalk spewing smoke from the hood of the car. This was one of the many carjackings that occurred during the spike ranging from early summer 2020 to late winter 2021. Recently PJ sat down with a member of the Rogers Park Community Neighborhood Watch to discuss what leads people to carjack. 

“It has become less of a need for a car and more of just a joyride mentality,” said the member of the Rogers Park community who wished to stay anonymous.

This was the case in the carjacking that PJ had witnessed. Walking down the street, PJ heard the residences of the houses on the block saying that it was a group of four kids that stole the car, crashed it, and ditched the scene. 

“From my personal experience, the jackings have been due to stupid teens making stupid decisions,” said the Rogers Park community member.

The person PJ interviewed lives on the border of Rogers Park and Edgewater and has seen the results in both the neighborhoods. There seems to be not much of a difference between the two.

“The cars tend to be driving south towards the city and most of the time end up totaling the car on their way.”

The incidents picked up during the winter months and around January they seemed to reach the peak of crime rates. With the cold weather, people are finding a way to stay warm and for some, that warmth is found in the heat of a stolen vehicle.

“The neighborhood has been on high alert, garages have been locked down and no one goes to their cars without a need to go somewhere,” said the community member.

This high alert has resulted in nervousness among the community but fortunately it seems the alert is paying off. Carjacking rates are on the decline. With the recent policies put in place by ridesharing services like Uber, as well as increased vigilance from Chicago residents, the hope is that Chicago will continue to become a safer place to be. Nevertheless these changes come too late for the families of those left behind. Javier Ramos leaves behind a nine-year-old daughter who will now grow up without her father. Yet his family as well as others continue to work to prevent another tragedy like this from happening. 

If you or someone you know is the victim or witness to a carjacking please report it at Chicago Police Vehicular Hijacking Task Force | Chicago Police Department

GoFundMe Page for Javier Ramos 

Fundraiser by Lily Ramos : Javier Ramos, for love & justice (gofundme.com)

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