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With Deadliest Month In 20 Years, Chicago Mother 'Desensitized' To Gunshots


Chicago is braced for a Labor Day weekend that could be long, taxing and tragic. August was the deadliest month in Chicago in nearly 20 years. Eighty six people were killed, most of them in gun violence. Four hundred seventy-two people were shot. Aleta Clark lives in Englewood, a South Side neighborhood that's often been the scene of some of the worst violence. She has two children and has founded a neighborhood group called HugsNoSlugs. She joins us from the studios of Chicago Public Radio. Thanks so much for being with us.

ALETA CLARK: Oh, no problem.

SIMON: So help us understand what's happening in your neighborhood. What is life like there?

CLARK: Well, to be honest with you, it's like the devil is just loose. There's kids being shot, women being killed. We're losing all of the men in our households to gun violence and the penitentiary. Every single day, all I hear is police cars, shooting. There's not one day that goes by that I don't hear those things.

You know, I visit this young man named Tavon (ph). He's 10 years old. Just playing in the front of his house, he was shot in the back. You know, by the grace of God, he made it and he's doing well. He's in recovery. But for the rest of his life, that's going to be his story - I got shot in the back when I was 10 years old outside playing with my twin sister. Like, we are in a state of emergency.

SIMON: And why is there so much violence these past few years? Boy, have I asked a big question.

CLARK: I don't really think that I could completely answer something so broad, but in Chicago, there is a lot of different cliques.

SIMON: Smaller splinters of gangs.

CLARK: Exactly, a small splinter of a gang. And I think that everybody just wants to be the man. Things was a lot different when I was a kid, though. Back then, you could probably ask a kid who they wanted to be when they grew up, and they would probably say a teacher or a doctor. And now, you probably would get something like I want to be like my big homie. I want to be OG. Like, this is the only thing that they're exposed to, so this is all they can aspire to be.

SIMON: Are you afraid to go out of your apartment?

CLARK: If I was afraid all the time, I probably wouldn't be in this line of business, which is HugsNoSlugs. I started this movement to try to bring more positivity into the poverty-stricken areas of Chicago. And I see a lot of really good people in these neighborhoods. These people have hearts, too.

Saturday I did a big event, and I fed the children soul food, you know, chicken and macaroni and just gave them a good, hearty meal and, you know, let them engage in, like, a talent show. It was beautiful. You don't see that type of positivity on the news from Englewood. Those people aren't exposed, and that's who I really do it for, to protect and preserve my people and mainly these children because they're innocent. They deserve a future.

SIMON: Yeah. We'll explain you've got your own gun buyback program.

CLARK: Yes. I did a gun buyback program a few months ago, and I just thought, like, if I could give people money for guns, I could probably get some of the guns off the street. I felt like one gun off the street was a success. But by the grace of God, I was able to recover 15.

It's hard. It is really hard when every time you look up, three kids killed here, four people shot here, somebody getting killed right down the street, right around the corner. It's kind of discouraging sometimes trying to do as much as you can with the resources that you do have.

SIMON: Boy, I mean, I think a lot of people listening, well, will be very moved, but, I mean, some of them have to be saying, wait a minute. The president of the United States is from the South Side. Don't people look up to him?

CLARK: I definitely look up to Obama. Obama's a great guy. I never forget - March 31 I wrote the president. You know, I'm from your city, and we're dying down here every day. What are you doing up there to stop what's happening to us down here? And he wrote me back, a little girl in a little basement apartment in Englewood. He wrote me back.

I was able to use that letter to inspire the people that live in this neighborhood like me. Don't ever stop trying. And it just goes back to the movement. No matter how hard things get, no matter every day and I'll wake up and I look at the news and more people have been killed, more people have been shot, that just shows me that I still have work to do.

SIMON: Aleta Clark is the CEO of HugsNoSlugs on the South Side of Chicago. Thanks so much for joining us.

CLARK: No problem, thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.