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Deadly Lessons: Understanding Lethal School Violence
Tilden High School was among the latter group. Hazel Steward, who was Tilden’s principal through this turbulent period, explains that Tilden’s own metal detectors were in operation about once a month prior to the shooting, because “it took a lot of extra staff and police.” She added, “It wasn’t mandatory, so we did it periodically; that was the way it worked.” She explained that it would have been very expensive for the school to hire and train extra security staff to run the detectors each day, requiring funds the school believed it could not justify spending in this way.
Schools that were not participating in the metal detector program at all, and schools like Tilden that were participating partially, were forced to reconsider their policies with the shooting death of Delondyn Lawson. Occurring only one month after Mayor Daley had sounded the alarm about metal detectors, the fatal Tilden shooting underscored Daley’s arguments for the use of metal detectors and fulfilled his warning that the schools rather than the city would be held accountable for such incidents. The mayor (November 21, 1992) immediately placed responsibility for the fatality on the school by implying that the shooting could have been prevented if on that day and all others the school’s metal detectors were fully utilized. The school superintendent, Ted Kimbrough (November 20, 1992), earlier had been less judgmental, suggesting that the random metal detector searches employed at Tilden at this time were “standard procedure.”
After the Tilden shooting, however, no Chicago school principals were quoted as saying that metal detectors were still unnecessary for their schools. The Tilden incident magnified the threat of in-school deadly violence in the minds of formerly skeptical principals, or at least took the political wind out of the sails of any opposition to metal detectors. Nor did any locally initiated alternatives to the metal detector policy receive attention in the press. Rather, metal detectors were generally hailed as a readily accessible and reasonably effective—though unpleasant—solution that could immediately allay growing fears in the community. The press portrayed the metal detectors as a necessary, though not a sufficient mechanism, to cope with the real and severe threat of school violence. A lone voice of dissent was Chicago Tribune columnist Bob Greene, who believed that metal detectors would promote safer schools, but at a considerable cost. Metal detectors are “our most awful failure,” Greene lamented after the Tilden shooting, “both as a symbol of today and a sign-post to our children’s future.”
Deputy Byrne credits the Tilden incident with laying to rest any lingering doubts about the use of metal detectors in the city’s high schools. His view was that after the Tilden incident, everybody jumped on board. “From November 1992 to the present they’re in full compliance with the