We wanted to understand what young people are going through that leads to them joining gangs and getting guns, so we sat in on a group discussion of young offenders who are working to avoid prison - and a life of crime. The head of the Next Level Boys Academy in Union City invited Channel 2′s Tom Jones to sit in on the lively discussion. That's where Gary Davis moderates, probes, inspires and engages those in attendance.
"If it's four Black boys in a car, how many people in a car got a gun?" he asked those on the Zoom call meeting.
"Probably all four of them," one young man replied.
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It was a wide-ranging, honest discussion about guns and where young people are getting guns. "A 12- or 13-year-old, they can go inside somebody car. They can take it off somebody hip. They can take their daddy, their brother little gun," someone said. Others said teens pay others to buy guns for them and then report the gun stolen.
Davis asked his young audience why young people feel the need to be in gangs and have guns. "You need a gun to be outside," one of them explained.
The people in the discussion are young offenders who were given a second chance to avoid prison, by completing the program.
Davis says the program aims to rehabilitate young people and keep them out of prison. "I'm trying to combat some of this recidivism that's in the city," he said.
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He does it by having raw and open conversations with the group about why young offenders do what they do. And he uses plenty of profanity while doing it. "I don't understand how in the (expletive) you go to Atlantic Station and shoot at each other," he shouted, recalling an incident that captured the nation's attention after a 12-year-old boy was killed.
Some participants said guns are just too easy to get and they've seen death so much that more death means nothing.
Jones asked the group about the point system juvenile courts use to determine if a young offender is detained or sent home. He asked if it encourages or discourages a life of crime.
One young man said it's a set up. "From 14 to 16, you break into 15 cars, you just get a little slap on the wrist; you go home. At 17 you break in that 16th car, not only are you getting charged for that one, they fixing to try your (backside) for all the other (expletive) too."
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis said this week discussions are underway with Gov. Brian Kemp and the Georgia legislature about problems with the juvenile code. Davis even says the point system needs to be revamped.
The young offenders in the program aren't gang members but were speaking about their peers. They meet in person on Saturdays at the Next Level Boys Academy in Union City. They meet on Zoom for the midweek check in.
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