Atlanta — As the coronavirus pandemic spread across the nation in 2020, the country saw the rise of another epidemic — gun violence. Guns are now the leading cause of death for children in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Atlanta has had 66 shooting deaths so far this year, with Black males making up 56 of them, according to the Atlanta Police Department.
"It's become acceptable to use violence. It's become acceptable for these knee-jerk reactions with violence," said Joshua Byrd, who runs a pilot program in Atlanta schools that seeks to stop the violence by teaching deescalation.
The program focuses on Black teens, who are often victims of gun culture.
"Some kids are just lost, like they don't know nothing else at all. They're just lost," Atlanta teenager Jaquawn McKelvey-Fludd told CBS News, adding that he thinks there's a "slim chance" of reaching those kids.
Black men ages 15 to 34 comprise 2% of the U.S. population, but accounted for 38% of gun violence fatalities in 2020, according to Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions. They are 20 times more likely to die from a gunshot than their White peers, which makes sixth-grader Demontae Weems nervous.
"You see people with guns and stuff walking around thinking that they're the stuff because they have a weapon," Weems told CBS News.
Through his volunteer work with 100 Black Men of Atlanta, Byrd, a former Marine and police officer, teaches deescalation over 10 2-hour sessions. Winning a fight might mean losing your life, he says, so walk away and live.
"It's something so small, but people will still react violently," said Byrd, who witnessed his first shooting when he was 7.
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