that could mitigate his sentence. “I wanted you to get that part,” his uncle pleaded and then conceded, “he had no business with a gun, good enough.”

For the sentencing judge, the gun and the resulting killing in a school were everything. He explicitly dismissed the youth or other circumstances of Joseph White as mitigating factors. “It is time for everyone to understand,” the judge concluded, “that those people who choose to take guns to settle disputes are accountable for what they do, be they 12 years old, or 15 years old, or 50 years old.” Joseph was sentenced to 45 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections on the charge of first degree murder, with sentences on the other charges to be served concurrently.


The shooting at Tilden High was an event whose impact was felt well beyond this particular school and its neighborhood setting. This incident was only one violent episode among a series of at least partially connected events that shaped Chicago public school policy on student safety. While there is an inevitable interplay between actors and institutions that in complex ways form the substance of social history, this shooting nonetheless stands out as particularly important in several respects, bringing several salient issues in school reform to a head and marking a turning point in school security and disciplinary policy and practice in Chicago.

Two identifiably different pathways of influence emerged out of the Tilden incident. The first involved mobilization on the part of prominent policy makers in the mayor’s office and on the Chicago Board of Education. The second pathway involved change from a more grassroots level as school principals, local school councils, and other actors at the school level sought to prevent a recurrence of the violence at Tilden.

We noted earlier that youth violence rose to alarming levels in Chicago, as in the nation, during the late 1980s and early 1990s. This issue became among the most important in Chicago politics during this period and involved a particular focus on youth gangs and their growing effects on and in the city public schools. Many citizens were concerned that the schools had become sites of both gang recruitment and conflicts. Gang fights inside schools were common, as were gang-related shootings near schools.

The attention of the crime-vigilant media were focused intensively on schools in fall 1989 when a student at another South Side school, Harper High, was fatally stabbed in front of his geometry class (October 1989). This killing prompted Reverend Jesse Jackson and at least one Chicago alderman to call for the installation of metal detectors in all city high schools. Jackson made his case in a speech to students at Harper High. “They have metal detectors to protect pilots and passengers from armed

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