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163 Joseph White shot and killed Delondyn Lawson at Tilden High Schoolin the last fatal Chicago school shooting nearly a decade ago. Thisevent was portrayed by extensive news coverage as random and senseless and by a jury trial as a first degree homicide that was inexcus- able as self-defense. However, this shooting was not random, and while it could not be justified as self-defense, it evolved out of a gang-related dispute with socially structured roots. This case study shows with an analysis of news media reports, census statistics and trial transcripts, and through personal interviews with community and school participants, lawyers, news reporters and public officials, how the Tilden school shoot- ing was connected to major historical changes in the economic and racial context that led to entrenched gang conflict in the South Side community where it occurred. This case study further shows how the trial of Joseph White became a political object lesson in the need for metal detectors in South Side sec- ondary schools, a policy that evolved into a wide range of âzero toler- anceâ and disciplinary and exclusionary measures that diffused across the country, with Chicago Mayor Daley as their persuasive advocate. The Tilden High shooting was embedded in social conflicts that reveal it was neither random nor senseless in the way initial news coverage suggested, while the trial had much broader consequences than was indicated by the conviction for first degree homicide itself. 6 Shooting at Tilden High: Causes and Consequences John Hagan, Paul Hirschfield, and Carla Shedd
164 DEADLY LESSONS: UNDERSTANDING LETHAL SCHOOL VIOLENCE AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY No student has been fatally shot in a Chicago public school since 1992. The last two fatal shootings occurred in high schools on Chicagoâs South Side during a 10-day period from November 10 to 20, 1992. A youth accidentally shot himself at school in the first incident. The second incident that is the focus of this study resulted in the death of one 15- year-old boy, the serious wounding of a second youth, and the shooting of a third youth in the foot. The youth who was killed, Delondyn Lawson, was identified in the first front page news stories (November 20, 1992), while the shooter and other two victims were not. The initial stories came on Friday, the day after the Thursday shooting. They reported the shooting as a response to a skirmish about a gambling debt. The gambling involved a dice game earlier in the week in a school washroom. The shooter was described as having âfired a handgun about four times randomly toward the skirmish.â Two unidentified suspects were reportedly arrested, and it was noted that metal detectors at the school were not functioning on the day of the shooting because they were being used on randomly chosen days to minimize cost and disruption. The next day, Saturday, the story was again on page one and the headline read, âEven Safety of Schools Shattered, Student Slain, 2 Others Wounded in Hallway at Tildenâ (November 21, 1992). The story was built around the victimâs mother, Linda Lawson, who asked, âWhat was I supposed to do with a 15-year-old? I drove him there in the morning, and I was there at 2:02 p.m. to pick him up. What else can you do? You have to send them to school.â The story noted that Delondyn Lawson had been fatally shot in the back, and two other youths were injured. Joseph White was identified in this story as the alleged shooter and as a 15-year-old freshman at Tilden now charged in adult court with first degree murder. He had fled the school pursued by other youths and a security guard and hid under a nearby back porch before being found and arrested. The story again mentioned the dice game and now briefly the possibility of gang involvement. Delondyn Lawson was described as a âgreat dancer and funny,â a boy who liked football and video games and who was trying to stay away from gangs. This second story also marked the entry of Mayor Richard Daley into the matter. The mayor responded to the random use of metal detectors, which was defended by the police and schools. âThey have to realize you have to run them every day,â the mayor insisted, âbecause if we run them in the federal building and in the state criminal justice system, you canât get [guns] in there.â The mayor asked, âWhatâs more important? Chil- dren are more important than anybody else in society. And that shooting, the death of a young child, directly affects everyone.â The mother of a
165SHOOTING AT TILDEN HIGH sophomore girl at Tilden elaborated the headline of the story by observ- ing that âItâs bad enough theyâre [the gangs] taking violence into the neighborhoods, but when theyâre taking it into the schools, itâs bad.â She emphasized that schools are different kinds of places: âTheyâre just here to learn. Theyâre not here to be dying.â The third day, Sunday, brought another page one story focused on the apparent randomness of the deadly victimization, saying âStudent Was in the Wrong Place at Wrong Timeâ (November 22, 1992). Joseph White again was identified as the charged assailant who was in jail and had been denied bond in court on Saturday. The story then fo- cused on Delondyn Lawson and his family. His mother described Delondyn as a child who cried easily and who recently had been at- tending funerals for boys he knew at a rate of one or two a month. âHis friends are constantly dying around him,â his mother reported, âTheyâre getting shot on the corners. Every month somebody he knew in his age group was dying.â Delondynâs former school principal called it an American tragedy. The news story reported that while he was walking between classes âa bullet tore through Delondynâs back and through his heart,â killing him almost instantly. Delondyn had been staying with his aunt and then his father until his mother had retaken custody of him in the preceding weeks. She was trying to help Delondyn keep out of trouble and get his grades up, in part by picking him up after classes each day and then tutoring him for two hours of schoolwork. Other members of the family said that he wasnât in a gang but his friends were. âThe guys who are in the gang grew up with him,â a relative explained. âItâs not like he donât know them. Heâs got to go through them. These are kids that heâs seen all his life.â The conclusion of the initial news coverage of the Tilden High shoot- ing came in a page seven story the following Tuesday (November 24, 1992). (For a summary of the media coverage regarding this case, see Box 6-1.) The family of Joseph White had retained Chicago attorney Robert Habib to represent their son, and he appeared in Cook County Circuit Court on Monday seeking to bar the news media from further reporting of the boyâs name, because he was a juvenile. Yet White had already been charged as an adult, and raising this issue simply resulted in his name appearing again in the same sentence as the report of the judgeâs refusal to suppress his identity, followed by a repetition of the report of the Saturday refusal of the appeal for his release on bond. Habib noted that the stateâs attorney asserted in the bond hearing that âWhite just walked in . . . and started shooting.â As a result, âyou had that image right off the bat, that Joseph White had made an unprovoked attack in the school, literally just walked in and started firing.â
166 DEADLY LESSONS: UNDERSTANDING LETHAL SCHOOL VIOLENCE Habib later encountered the judge who had denied the suppression of Joseph Whiteâs name. The judge confided that, âYou know, quite frankly, had there been no publicity on the case, I probably would have granted your motion. But at this point, weâd look like total fools given the BOX 6-1 MEDIA CHRONOLOGY October 12, 1989. âYouth Slain in Front of Classmates.â Chicago Tribune. September 26, 1991. âOnce Safe Havens, Schools Now in Line of Fire.â Chicago Tribune. March 21, 1992. âPolice Fire Two Police Officers Over Incident with Teens.â Chicago Sun-Times, p. 4. June 5, 1992. âDaley Offers Metal Detectors to Schools.â Chicago Tribune. October 22, 1992. âDaley Prods Schools on Metal Detectors.â Chicago Sun- Times, p. 4. October 23, 1992. âSchool Metal Detectors Offer no Protection for Kids Out- side.â Chicago Tribune. November 20, 1992. âBoy Killed in Shooting at Tilden High School.â Chicago Tri- bune, p. 1. November 21, 1992. âEven Safety of Schools Shattered, Student Slain, 2 Others Wounded in Hallway at Tilden.â Chicago Tribune, p. 1. November 22, 1992. âStudent was in Wrong Place at Wrong Time.â Chicago Tri- bune, p. 1. November 23, 1992. âTeen Charged as Adult in Killing.â Chicago Defender, p. 1. November 24, 1992. âBody Count Rises in the Public Schools.â Chicago Tribune, p. 18. November 24, 1992. âTilden Tries to Heal Wounds, Counselors Help Students Cope with Fatal Shooting.â Chicago Tribune, p. 7. November 27, 1992. âMetal Detectors in School Set Off Alarms.â Chicago Tribune, p. 1. December 1, 1992. âIt May be too Late to Sound an Alarm.â Chicago Tribune, Bob Green Editorial. December 5, 1992. âBullets Rip Schoolâs Illusion of Safety.â Chicago Tribune, p. 1. June 14, 1993. âDeath of an Innocent Bystander: The Peacekeeper in his Family, Delondyn Lawson is Cut Down at Random by a Class- mate Firing Wildly.â People magazine, pp. 48â49. January 20, 1994. âTrial Opens in Killing at Tilden.â Chicago Tribune, p. 5. January 22, 1994. âTeen Guilty of Slaying in Tilden Hallway.â Chicago Tribune, p. 5. March 15, 1994. âPrison Term in School Shooting.â Chicago Tribune, p. 3. September, 1998. âChicago Public Schools: Expulsions Rise, But Safety Issues Persist,â by Natalie Pardo, Chicago Reporter. March 11, 1999. âOff-Campus Arrest Could Boot Kids: Expulsion Policy to Stiff- en.â Chicago Sun-Times, p. 3. February 15, 2000. âBoy Charged in Shooting of Classmate.â Chicago Tribune. February 16, 2000. âVallas, Daley Encourage Broad Gun-Detector Use.â Chica- go Tribune. April 7, 2000. âVallas Wants Poverty Cash for Security.â Chicago Tribune.
167SHOOTING AT TILDEN HIGH fact that everybody in Chicago knows his name.â Habib felt he had probably already lost the case at this point. âThe dominant issue was the fact that he was convicted in the media, before we had a chance.â He lamented taking what he called the approach of âan attorney of the old schoolâ: âThe last thing you did was try your case in the media. That was a huge mistake that I made when I look back at it. When I watched the attorneys in the O.J. Simpson case jump in front of the TV cameras every chance to try to portray him as being innocent or whatever, I congratu- lated them.â Habib believes he didnât do enough of this, but he did encourage Whiteâs mother to assume a public role. Following the Monday court appearance, Joseph Whiteâs mother, Karen, appeared before television cameras to answer reportersâ ques- tions. âAny parent with kids understands there are no model kids,â she began. Picking up on the American tragedy theme introduced by Law- sonâs former school principal, she then observed that, âItâs a tragedy for both and all parties concernedâfor the families and the kids. He is a victim of a tragic situation that cannot be altered.â Karen White then echoed Mayor Daleyâs pleas for the regular use of metal detectors. An editorial in the Chicago Tribune also took up Daleyâs theme, observing that âhad metal detectors been used routinely at Tilden, Delondyn Law- sonâs killer might have been deprived of his weaponâor at least forced to use it elsewhere.â Karen Whiteâs public comments began to suggest the way in which she was caught up in this story along with her son. She was off work on the day of the shooting and, because her son was identified so quickly by other youths as the shooter, the police were at her doorstep within the hour. âI was washing my hair when somebody was beating on the door. When I went downstairs and opened the door, there was just like police everywhere.â She was told of the shooting and that Joseph was at large and armed with a gun. âThe only thought that I was thinking was that my son was going to be killed. They said he had a gun and that if he came back, I needed to let them know because he was in danger of being killed if they saw him with that gun.â Karen could not reach her husband at work but was able to get her sister-in-law to drive her to the school. She was terrified. âOver in that area there have been a lot of police shootings and there were so many boys that had gotten killed, you know, so I was thinking that Joey was going to get killed.â When Karen White arrived at the school the police had apprehended Joseph across the street. âThey were laying him up against a car and they were handcuffing him. . . . My first thought was just being thankful to God that he was alive.â They took him to the 51st Street police station. Karen followed and when she arrived âeverything was just pande- monium.â Joseph was already locked in a cell, and she was allowed to join him. âWhen I saw him he was scared, he just looked wild-eyed
168 DEADLY LESSONS: UNDERSTANDING LETHAL SCHOOL VIOLENCE because he didnât know, you know, he did that [the shooting] but he did not know the full ramifications of his actions. Joey, when I saw him, I saw that my baby was scared out of his brain and confused looking, you know, he was just hysterical.â There was little she could do. âWe really didnât have a chance to talk, they were trying to ask him questions, they read him his rights and then told him that he had a right to an attorney and that if he didnât want to speak about anything that he didnât have too.â Karen contacted attorney Habib through a friend and then stayed with Joseph. âWe stayed there until maybe 11 or 12 oâclock at night and finally the district attorney came down and they told me that they were indicting him for murder.â Karen returned home after âthe worst day of my life.â Less frequent but continuing news stories appeared over the follow- ing days and weeks. Habib did not push for the case to go quickly to trial, hoping the intervening time would allow the effect of the pretrial publicity to subside. However, the appearance of an article in a June 1993 issue of People magazine about Delondyn Lawson and his mother, Linda, focusing on the loss of her son, brought new attention to the shooting to a national audience (June 14, 1993). Linda Lawson revealed that Delondyn had not wanted to go to school on that Thursday and that she had worried that he was becoming involved with gang members. She wondered now, âWas he having problems he didnât want to tell me about?â Still, Delondyn was described as a âhelpmate with a tender heartâ and Joseph White as the youth who âhad pulled a small semiautomatic pistol from his waistband and blasted away until he ran out of bullets.â Linda described how she learned from a neighbor that her son was a victim in the shooting and rushed first to the school and then to the hospital. âWhen I came through the door, I knew, . . . no one had to tell me.â She continued, âSeeing my baby laying up there, thatâs a feeling I canât describe. . . . I think the thing that hurt me most was that I wasnât there with him [when he died].â Lindaâs sister, Cathy, looked for an- swers: âDo you blame the boy or the boyâs parents or the school?â Whiteâs lawyer, Habib, knew that in this atmosphere his client was going to be convicted and receive a prison sentence, and he therefore initiated plea negotiations in an attempt to reduce the charge and the sentence. He was stonewalled with the response that there was too much adverse publicity about the shooting to plea bargain. âI tried several times in conferences with the stateâs attorney, and they just came back and said, âNo, we canât do it. The supervisor says no way. Because of the pressure on us, we cannot give you a plea on this case.ââ When the alternatives were exhausted, the case finally went to trial more than a year after the shooting, on January 19, 1994.
169SHOOTING AT TILDEN HIGH TILDEN IN CONTEXT Tilden High School is located at the intersection of 47th Street and Union Street in the south side area of Chicago known historically for the Union Stock Yards. The gates to the Yards were opened in 1865 and stayed open for more than 100 years. The area surrounding is still called New City, the name given to it by sociologists in the 1920s. New City contains two historic neighborhoods that emerged to the east and west of the Yards. The area to the east that includes Tilden High School is known as Canaryville. Its history through the early part of the 20th century was dominated by the packinghouse district and its adjoining neighborhood to the west. The area to the west and south is known as Back of the Yards. This is the area that gained notoriety as a desolate industrial slum in Upton Sinclairâs 1905 novel, The Jungle, which was published just after the major packinghouse strikes of 1904. Back of the Yards became more notorious after a 1919 race riot and the major packinghouse strike of 1922. Southern blacks were brought to Chicago as strikebreakers in this part of the cen- tury, anticipating some of the change and conflict to follow. The popula- tion of this part of Chicago peaked in about 1920. The older, white ethnic and more established Mexican American families and institutions in the Back of the Yards area have been represented since 1938 by the Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council (BYNC), which was founded by the famous community organizer Saul Alinsky and other local leaders. The end of World War II brought major changes to the New City area. Meat packers began to buy animals directly from farmers, and interstate trucking replaced the use of the railroads in the transportation and deliv- ery of live animals and frozen meat. The packinghouses of the area steadily declined as a focal point of the meat industry. By the early 1970s, the Union Stock Yards had closed its gates and the economic underpin- nings of this area were permanently altered. There have been various efforts to revive the economic life of the area, including the designation of the Stock Yards District as one of two Chicago urban enterprise zones in 1984 and the building of a new shopping mall with several large retail anchor stores in 1990. Although these efforts have been cited as a national model of urban redevelopment, the results are still more promise than reality, and the New City area remains economically troubled. Social change accompanied the economic alteration of life in New City through much of the last century. When Joseph Whiteâs family moved in the spring of 1971 to their home at 324 West 51st Street, about a mile from Tilden High, the surrounding area was still overwhelmingly white and only 4 percent black. However, as indicated in Figure 6-1, by the time Joseph was approaching kindergarten in 1980, the area was less
170 DEADLY LESSONS: UNDERSTANDING LETHAL SCHOOL VIOLENCE than two-thirds white, nearly one-quarter black, and about one-fifth other, mostly Mexican American. As Joseph approached high school in 1990, New City was less than one-third white, nearly half black, and about one- quarter Mexican American. The White family was experiencing this era of rapid social change firsthand, and it involved more than changing numbers on a graph can tell. As blacks arrived in increasing numbers from the southern states, they settled in the South Side of Chicago, and low-cost public housing projects began to rise. Real estate operators steered blacks who could afford to buy homes into South Side neighborhoods and simultaneously scared whites into leaving, profiting on the rapid turnover. The resulting plunge in real estate values contributed to the impoverishment of the new residents. Meanwhile, banks âredlinedâ areas for which they would deny loans. Businesses began to leave these neighborhoods, and city services declined. A cycle of disinvestments contributed to the ongoing process of decline. Chicago was emerging in the latter half of the 20th century as one of the most racially segregated cities in America. As Figure 6-2 shows, 1990 census figures indicate that the numbers actually do not reveal the extent to which New City is racially segregated. There are census tracts within New City that are almost entirely white as well as tracts that are almost entirely black. The tract around Tilden High retained a large white population into the late 1980s, even though by then the majority of youth attending the school were black. 0 20 40 60 80 100 120 Year White Black Other Nonwhite Races 1960 1970 1980 1990 White 100% 96% 58% 32% Black 0% 4% 22% 42% Other Nonwhite Races 0% 1% 21% 26% 1960 1970 1980 1990 R ac ia l P er ce nt ag e FIGURE 6-1 New City population by race. SOURCE: Chicago Area Geographic Information Study (2001).
171SHOOTING AT TILDEN HIGH The White family moved into a low-income housing development of new homes in 1971, when Josephâs mother was only 21 years old. Her grandparents had joined in the northern migration that led from Tennes- see to Chicago, where Karen White was born. Almost all of her immedi- ate family members have lived in this city. All the families moving into the adjoining new houses with the Whites were also black. Karen had recently married; she and her new husband felt the area offered the ad- vantages of a new community, with a nearby church and elementary school, where they would be accepted and could successfully raise a fam- ily. They have now been married for more than 30 years, raising several children in this home. Karenâs husband is disabled from several strokes; they now live mostly in Texas to be closer to their daughter and her children. The changes we have described brought inevitable racial tension to the New City area and to Tilden High School. Tilden opened in 1889 and once ranked as an advantaged institution in the educational hierarchy of south Chicago. At the turn of the century, âThe students were special, out of the ordinary, and they knew it. Their chances to succeed were better than most of the friends they grew up with, and they would soon move on to a different rank in societyâ (Slayton, 1986). However, Tilden changed as the community around it experienced an economic and social transformation over the century. The Canaryville neighborhood made news when in the winter of 1982 the mayor of Chicago, Jane Byrne, ordered the dismantling of four heavy iron gates erected during the 1960s to separate white from black areas. Karen White was a supervisor in the accounts department of a large Chicago newspaper when Joseph entered high school. She had achieved 0 20 40 60 80 100 City Total 6101 6107 6108 6109 6122 6102 6106 6110 6120 6121 6112 6111 6119 Census Tract R ac ia l P er ce nt ag e Other Race Asian or Pacific American Indian Black White FIGURE 6-2 1990 New City census data by race. SOURCE: Chicago Area Geographic Information Study (2001).
172 DEADLY LESSONS: UNDERSTANDING LETHAL SCHOOL VIOLENCE a measure of success and felt hopeful for her family. Nevertheless, soon after moving into her new home, Karen White learned about gang prob- lems in the community. âIt was the Mickey Cobras that were in the area. I didnât know a lot about gangs; I was never affiliated, but moving into that area and through my kids and their friends, we found out the area we lived in was the Mickey Cobra area.â The transformation of New City and Tilden High is well summarized, in terms of its racial implications for young people, by the classic work of Gerald Suttles in another south side Chicago neighborhood. Suttles (1968) observes that racial and ethnic groups become identified with sociospatial locations in urban areas, and these identifications have strong implications for interactions between and within groups. In earlier times there was intense racial conflict, including the race riot of 1919 in the Stock Yards over the hiring of strikebreakers (Chicago Commission on Human Relations, 1922). While this produced enduring racial divisions that would continue to plague Chicago (Halpern, 1997), this situation ultimately settled into a pattern of community isolation and ethnic insularity reflected most promi- nently in persistent residential segregation (Cohen, 1990). In addition, there was historical significance to a contradictory kind of integrated employ- ment that ultimately emerged in the packinghouses of the New City area: âIndeed, in many urban areas the packinghouse was the largest interracial institution, one of the few places where blacks and whites interacted on a daily basisâ (Halpern and Horowitz, 1996:2). Suttles (1968:31) describes the kind of isolation and insulation that emerged in the surrounding neighborhoods: âFirst, each group is a socio-spatial unit. Second, inclusion in these groupings is mutually exclusive. Third, opposition is between âequivalentâ units. Fourth, the order by which groups combine preserves the equivalence of opposi- tional units.â The reflection in New City of the social order that Suttles describes consists of racially homogeneous gangs that more often enter into conflict with one another than across racial lines. Each of Tildenâs low-income neighborhoods was dominated by a dif- ferent gang. At the time of the shooting, at least six gangs had a signifi- cant presence in the black neighborhoods around Tilden: the Black Gang- ster Disciples, the Mickey Cobras, the Blackstones, the Vicelords, the Latin Kings, and the Satan Disciples. White students also belonged to neigh- borhood gangs. Prior to the wave of disciplinary reforms in Chicago, Tilden High School was a place where gang members could freely as- semble and carry out recruitment and money-making activities. More generally, schools provided a setting where rival gangs could interact and compete for shares of various illegal markets. In the early 1990s, Tilden was an extremely volatile environment, and fights were a nearly daily occurrence.
173SHOOTING AT TILDEN HIGH Most of the clashes at Tilden occurred between gangs of the same race. An exception, according to the school police officer, was a clash that occurred shortly before the shooting. One of the members of a black gang reportedly slapped the girlfriend of the leader of Tildenâs Latin Kings. Outnumbered by the rival black gang, the leader solicited the help of adult Latin Kings from the nearby Latino neighborhood. Soon after, these adult gang members surrounded the school with shotguns and prepared to seek revenge against the various black gangs. We interviewed the school police officer about his recollection of this incident: Q: What did you do? A: I pleaded with the gang leader to call them off. Q: Did you call other cops? A: If I put out a request for assistance, I could expect one car at the most. If I put out a 10-1, which is a serious officer distress call, I might get two cars. So I had to handle it myself. The Latin Kingsâ leader heeded the officerâs pleas and called off the rival gang. This experience, the school police officer surmised, nonethe- less indicated to the black gangs that in the face of a serious deadly threat they could not rely on authorities but must instead rely on each other. This experience of a common enemy briefly fostered an atmosphere of relative harmony among gangs from the same Gang Nation, which for the purpose of this analysis most notably included the Mickey Cobras and the Blackstones. In this way, race may have been an important factor in explaining why two rival gangs were exhibiting a sort of camaraderie by gambling with each other in the school bathroom (Yablonsky, 1997). In the overarching organizational structure of the Gang Nation, the Black- stones and the Mickey Cobras were temporarily friendly affiliates who fell under the branch of the âPeoples.â In times of war with the rival branch, the âFolks,â these gangs would come together. A gang officer at the 51st Street police station confirmed that such alliances still occur to- day. The school police officer who worked at Tilden High in the early 1990s concluded that the gambling episode that precipitated the shooting was borne out of this tentative truce between black gangs. He nonethe- less recalled his own surprise as he witnessed members of the different black gangs, the rival Mickey Cobras and the Blackstones, all gambling together in the bathroom. This was the complicated and gang-dominated world of young people who attended Tilden High School. Students had to negotiate the bound- aries of gangs and neighborhoods in their everyday movements to and from school as well as in it. The âordered segmentationâ of different
174 DEADLY LESSONS: UNDERSTANDING LETHAL SCHOOL VIOLENCE groups, which was simultaneously spatial and social in nature, was con- fronted by these youth on a daily basis. George Knox (1992:134) makes this point in noting that the âschool environment brings rival gang mem- bers in close proximity to one another and blurs haphazard turf lines which leads to confrontations and challenges within school, on school property and on the streets surrounding the schools.â This is a compli- cated world in which todayâs enemies may be tomorrowâs allies. It was difficult if not impossible for most youth at Tilden to completely avoid these gang entanglements. As he moved into high school, Joseph White was clearly becoming a part of this fast-changing world of gangs. Karen White was aware that although much of the open racial conflict that had earlier characterized New City and its ongoing transition had subsided by the time Joseph was ready to attend high school, the gang problems within the black community had become an equal or greater threat. She recalled: âI knew that Tilden was a racially mixed school but, . . . by the time Joseph was coming along the racial tension was not as great. . . . We had learned to coexist together.â Instead, the White family encountered the community and the schoolâs more persistent problem with gangs. Karen White observed, âThe gang activities were the prob- lem, thatâs what my concern was because in our area there were the Mickey Cobras on that end, but in Tilden there was a whole other fac- tion.â The other faction was the Blackstone Rangers, the largest and oldest gang in Chicago, called by the father figure of American gang research, Frederick Thrasher (1927:278â9), âa moral lesion on the life of the cityâ (cited in Barrett, 1987:219). Karen White worried that âTilden was riddled with gang conflict, so that was more of the parentsâ concern than the racial part of it.â It is nonetheless also important to identify the suppressed nature of racial conflict in this situation. One salient reason why racial violence probably remained a within-group phenomenon in this Chicago commu- nity, as elsewhere in America, was because of the severity of sanctions for interracial violence, and sometimes even interracial contact. For years it was known that sometimes when Chicago police picked up black youth whom they suspected but could not charge with crimes in white neigh- borhoods like Canaryville, they would drop them off at a location in the neighborhood where they were likely to be beaten by local residents (see Suttles, 1968). In the year of the Tilden shooting, the Chicago Police Board fired several police officers who had left two black youth in the Canary- ville neighborhood, where they subsequently were assaulted by a gang of white youths (March 21, 1992). A related incident was reported in the Canaryville neighborhood on a summer evening in 1985, when two young black adults detoured around road construction onto South Union Avenue (July 12, 1985). They came
175SHOOTING AT TILDEN HIGH up behind an apparently stalled vehicle in front of Tilden High School and were about to ask the driver if he needed help when a group of white youths surrounded their car. âThey were screaming, âNigger, what are you doing here?ââ and âThen they came at us with the bats. All the parents were just watching on their porches.â Every window of the car the black youths were driving was smashed, and the front end of the car as well. One of the youths was struck in the face with a bat. âLots of stuff like that happens all the time,â a Canaryville resident told a newspaper reporter on the scene, âIf you get a bunch of guys sitting on the corner and a colored guy rides by, they will chase him.â Finally, it is important to bear in mind that the early 1990s was a period of economic recession and historically high rates of violent crime in America, which especially affected young black males, especially in areas like New City and schools like Tilden High. It also bears noting that it took a unique social history to produce the high rates of violent crime that America experienced by the early 1990s: it began with a violent revolution, institutionalized the right to bear arms, celebrated a lawless frontier, incor- porated slavery, included a civil war, allowed a proliferation of guns, facili- tated a large gun industry, witnessed the emergence and growth of large and impoverished urban ghettoes, and produced a nation in which there are more guns than people (Hagan and Foster, 2000). Meanwhile, in June 1992 seasonally adjusted unemployment rates reached their contemporary peak at 7.8 percent. The recession had tech- nically ended, but the recovery left unemployment unabated, especially in places like south Chicago. A teacher described the situation for many youth at Tilden starkly: âa lot of these kids from blue-collar families, it didnât look like they had much of a future. You know, they had seen their parents laid off left and right.â It shouldnât have come as a complete surprise, then, that the latter half of the 20th century brought a significant increase in American gun homicides and violence that peaked in the early 1990s along with unemployment. As Blumstein and Rosenfeld (1998) point out, the aggregate U.S. ho- micide rate moved to its near-term peak from 1985 to 1993 and then began to decline to mid-1960s levels. The peaking levels of homicide for young black males were devastating, rising among 18-year-olds from about 20 to 60 per 100,000 population between 1985 and 1993. Handgun homicides alone accounted for all the growth in homicides in the United States after 1985 (Blumstein and Rosenfeld, 1998). The youthful wave of black male homicides in the late 1980s and early 1990s prompted warnings from some of a coming âbloodbathâ (Fox, 1995) in which âsuperpredatorsâ would be terrorizing American cities for years to come (Bennett, Dilulio and Walters, 1996). Subsequent declines proved these predictions alarm- ingly mistaken, but the source of the apprehension is nonetheless clear.
176 DEADLY LESSONS: UNDERSTANDING LETHAL SCHOOL VIOLENCE Americans became extremely apprehensive about the movement of guns and gang violence into public schools in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Chicago was no exception, although the peak in gang violence may have occurred a year or two later than in large East Coast cities. This may have reflected the rate of movement of the crack cocaine epidemic across the country and into the Midwest. Figure 6-3 shows that Chicago street gang-related homicides with black male victims rose steadily from 1987 to 1994 (Block and Martin, 1997). Figure 6-4 shows there was also an increase in arrests in or near Tilden High School from the mid-1980s to the early to mid-1990s. So by almost any measure, the time of the Tilden shooting was a high point in criminal violence among black youth. The special concern was that this violence was coming into the schools. The Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority published results from two surveys con- ducted in 31 public high schools in 1990 (Stephens, 1992). The results indicated that 1 in 12 public high school students in Illinois reported being the victim in the past year of a physical attack while in or going to and from school. About the same proportionâ1 in 12âreported some- times staying home from school for fear that someone would hurt or bother them. These proportions would certainly have been higher among Tilden High School students when the shooting occurred in November 1992. 8 10 14 37 43 57 43 24 21 19 4 6 8 3 9 12 40 40 44 46 33 39 21 24 20 59 83 73 98 157 129 0 20 40 60 80 100 120 140 160 180 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 Year of Occurrence N um be r o f V ict im s FIGURE 6-3 Chicago street gang related homicides, black male victims, 1965â 1995. SOURCE: Chicago Homicide Dataset, a collaborative project of the Chicago Po- lice Department, the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, and Loyola University, Chicago.
177SHOOTING AT TILDEN HIGH This is the world in which Joseph White and the three victims of his shooting moved. The gangs and guns left few untouched, and the impact was often swift and severe. The year before the shooting, Joseph was receiving good marks in school and had won a trophy as the most valu- able player on his basketball team, but by spring 1992 he was already at least a passing part of the gang scene, and Karen White felt increasingly powerless to keep him away from it. He was taken into custody and charged with 22 other youth by the Chicago police on an evening in May at a South Side park where approximately 50 youth associated with the Mickey Cobras street gang had gathered. The officer reported that âthey were throwing bricks and stones and bottles at other people that werenât dressed like they were, and they were trying to keep them out of the park.â This case was not taken to court, but the month before the Novem- ber shooting Joseph was spotted with another youth removing cartons containing stereos from a railroad boxcar. The stereos were later recov- ered from Josephâs home, and he pleaded guilty in juvenile court. The two surviving victims of the shooting also came into conflict with the law. One was convicted and received a prison sentence for armed robbery, and the other came into contact with the police for drug activities. FIGURE 6-4 Arrests in or near Tilden High School, 1985â1996. SOURCE: Chicago Police Department, Youth Arrest Records, 2001. 0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 Arrests At or Near Tilden Arrests At Tilden Ju ve ni le A rre st s Year
178 DEADLY LESSONS: UNDERSTANDING LETHAL SCHOOL VIOLENCE Meanwhile, Tilden High School was besieged with gang activity and hallway violence. A teacher who was at Tilden prior to the shooting recalled that gang-connected fights were common in the hallways, âthe kind of fights that would empty classrooms out, you know, youâve got your kids in the classroom and all of a sudden something goes on in the hall and then the whole class just runs out.â The principal of Tilden, Hazel Steward, reported that gang members were conspicuous by their presence: âThey roamed the halls; there were gang fights everyday, teach- ers constantly going to lock the doors.â A school policy was adopted of locking students into the classrooms during class time, âthe teachers went in and were supposed to lock their doors, to close out the chaos in the halls.â A teacher at Tilden emphasized the intragroup nature of this rising tide of violence, which matches the more abstract description provided earlier by Suttles (1968). He observed that âfrom what I could tell, it was two separate black gangs that were fighting each other, and then two separate Hispanic gangs that were fighting each other. It was more amongst, kind of fighting for dominance, you know, within the racial groups.â The violence that was engulfing South Side neighborhoods in Chicago was not random in the way implied by the initial news reports of the November shooting at Tilden High. THE TRIAL The most telling evidence in the trial came from Joseph White him- self, and the following discussion is based on his testimony, with some elaboration as indicated from interviews. Joseph had acknowledged that he was a member of the Mickey Cobras gang and began by recounting the gambling dispute that led to the shooting. The dispute was over a Mon- day morning dice game in the upstairs locker room or bathroom at Tilden. The first witness for the prosecution, Dewaun Glover, had joined the game and was losing $10 to $20 at a time. Glover indicated that he was losing money that came from the head of his gang, the Blackstone Rang- ers. Other members of the gang had joined the group when Dewaun tried to reclaim the money he had lost. Before a fight broke out, a police officer arrived and took Joseph and Dewaun to the school disciplinarianâs office. Both youths were suspended for three days. While he was away from school on suspension, two youths reported to Joseph that âif I didnât bring the money that I was going to get whipped or banged.â Joseph recalled in court that âI knew that they were going to beat me up, but I didnât know whether they would have a gun.â His mother recalled that Joseph had refused to let her become involved: âJoey didnât want to appear cowardly or scared, thatâs the
179SHOOTING AT TILDEN HIGH reason he didnât want me to go up, he told me later he didnât want me to be involved because he felt that we were powerless against the gangs.â Another youth in the neighborhood who had heard about the dispute approached Joseph with a small, semiautomatic pistol, which he loaded and test fired. Joseph bought the weapon and carried it to school, thinking he was most likely to be jumped by members of the Blackstone Rangers as he walked through their territory on the way to or from school. He wasnât likely to go to the police for help. His mother later explained, âyoung boys in that area, the police and them were at odds. So it wasnât like he felt he could go to the police for help.â Joseph reported being chased by members of the gang on the way to school, but the shooting occurred later as he arrived in a hallway at the top of a stairwell inside the school. Joseph was walking with a girl who testified on his behalf. When they arrived at the top of the stairs, Delondyn Lawson was standing with Duwaun Glover in an area of the hallway that the Blackstones commonly occupied. Duwaun crossed in front of Joseph, and he remembered him saying something like, âHey, man, whatâs up with my money?â Another unidentified youth reportedly said, âMan, we didnât come here to talk. Letâs do what we gone do so I can put this (guyâs) head up in his locker.â Joseph continued âand then I began to get hit, and I fell. And when I fell, I didnât fall flat; I kind of braced myself with my hands.â The cluster around him included Delondyn, Duwaun and other Blackstone gang members. Attorney Habib asked, âDid you think you could run away at this point?â and Joseph answered that âI had no way of getting out. I tried, but I . . . couldnât.â The ensuing shooting by Joseph White can possibly be explained by the male posturing that is prevalent in both youth and gang culture. In their research from an earlier era in Chicago, Short and Strodtbeck (1965) noted that âgang rivalries were often focused on turf, men defending âtheirsâ against the encroachment of another man. Such incursions are a sign of âdisrepectâ which leads to men needing to display toughness. Fights were often a matter of chance combined with a tough guy imageâ (p. 87). Duwaun Glover testified that when he asked Joseph where the missing Blackstone money was, Joseph replied, âI ainât giving your money back, pussy.â Josephâs refusing to give the money back and signaling disrespect for Duwaun by calling him a derogatory name (âpussyâ) prob- ably played a role in provoking the skirmish that escalated into Joseph pulling his gun and shooting into the cluster of students around him. A considerable amount of time was taken in connected testimony to establish whether the shots that Joseph fired came âdefensivelyâ from the ground or more âaggressivelyâ from a standing position. In his own words:
180 DEADLY LESSONS: UNDERSTANDING LETHAL SCHOOL VIOLENCE When I fell, I fell on my arm, and I caught myself. I never was really flat on the floor. And then afterâafter Iâa few seconds, thatâs when I reached for the gun and begin to get up. And before I got all the way up, I shot the gun. And a guy jumped; either he was jumping to get to the floor so he wouldnât get shot, or he was trying to knock the gun out of my hand. And the gun went off two other times, and at that point I turned around, and I ran. He insisted in response to questions that his intent was not to kill anyone. âThey were never aimed to no particular person. And the fact that the guy got killed, it was not on purpose, sir. My intent was to get the crowd up off me.â Joseph said he then ran not because he felt guilty but because he was terrified, âI was scared. I never felt like that again in my whole life. I was afraid.â In his closing arguments, Josephâs attorney argued that the shooting was essentially an act of self-defense: Is there anyone of you who would have said, no, I would have stayed there and got beaten? He did what any reasonable person would have done at this point. He took out the gun to defend himself. Joseph White may be guilty of something, he had no right to bring this gun onto school property. Thatâs a separate charge, though, unlaw- ful use of a weapon on school property. The prosecution responded: How can you say heâs afraid when somebody else is hitting the ground, or running, because somebody is yelling he has a gun, and thatâs why he did not truly then believe he had the right to self-defense, that he was mad, and, unfortunately, he had that loaded gun in his pocket. The prosecution view was that: There is only one person in the whole group that has a dead body to his credit, and thatâs that guy standing right over there, Mickey Cobra, who settles a dispute with a gun, and you cannot let him do that, and thatâs going to be your decision, and what you will decide is your message to the rest of society about what is, or is not, going to be tolerated. The bottom line to the defense was that if the jury did not come back with a verdict of not guilty based on self-defense, then in the alternative they could reach a verdict of guilt based on a lesser charge than first degree murder, for example, second degree murder or voluntary man- slaughter.
181SHOOTING AT TILDEN HIGH THE VERDICT The trial that began on a Wednesday was finished on Friday and the jury retired to reach its verdict. Hours went by without the juryâs return. This gave some grounds for hope on Josephâs behalf, but the hope was against the odds. âThe dominant issue,â Habib later reiterated, âwas the fact that he was convicted in the media, before we had a chance.â He had not pushed the case to trial, so that âhopefully it would be out of the public mind.â But this was an idle hope, for âas soon as we started talking to the jury, picking the jury, almost everybody remembered the case.â Furthermore, Habib found that attitudes toward the case were par- ticularly strong. He observed that âa lot of my clients are South Siders. And the reaction from the community was intensely anti-Joseph White on the grounds that if no matter what else, the idea that he had brought a gun to school was justâI had clients telling me, âHow can you take this case?ââ This same view quickly emerged when jury selection began. âThe reac- tion that he had brought the gun to school was looked at as, forget it, heâs guilty, thatâs it.â The feeling was that at least to that point the gangs had done their shooting outside school, âbut nobody had done a shooting in the schools.â This clearly influenced Habibâs approach to jury selection: âthe sentiment in the community on the South Side was so severe that we made sure when we picked the jury we had a suburban, white middle- class jury.â For Karen White, however, Delondyn Lawsonâs mother, Linda, was also a jury in her own right. Karen encountered Linda Lawson outside the courtroom. I apologized to her. I knew there was nothing, absolutely zero, that I could say or do that could minimize her loss or bring her son back. I was trying to talk to her, to let her know that in no way did I condone this action, if I could do anything in the world to change things, I would. I also let her know that Joey would, because Joey told me, âMama, I didnât want to kill that boy, I killed somebody.â Not only did he take a life, he destroyed all our lives in that single miscalculation. She wasnât mean to me or anything. We both have a terrible sense of loss and like I explained to her, you are there because your son was a victim, he died, but I was there also because my son was a victim and he died, because he lost his innocence. Karen White knew that her son had already lost a year of his life, and he was likely to lose much of the rest. The jury finally returned at about 10 oâclock Friday evening. They had deliberated at length and come back with the maximum possible verdict: Joseph White was convicted of first degree murder, two counts of
182 DEADLY LESSONS: UNDERSTANDING LETHAL SCHOOL VIOLENCE aggravated battery, and one count of unlawful use of a weapon. The sentence exposure on the first degree murder conviction was 20 to 60 years in prison. As hopeful as Robert Habib was of his clientâs chances based on the self-defense argument, he conceded that this defense would have been stronger if he could have shown that the Blackstone gang members were also armed. Karen White is still today convinced that Josephâs attackers were well armed, âThey had bats, they had car antennas, and they had weapons in the school. They were not coming to him for an old-fashioned fistfight, I think that went out years and years ago.â Habib remarked in retrospect, Joseph, in one way, was really honest, all right. And had he testified that some of these boys coming after him had knives out, along those lines. His whole thing about self-defense, that he had a right to pull out the gun to shoot at this boy, would have been much stronger. But he never would say that. I asked him several times, âDid anybody pull a knife? Did you see any weapons or knives?â He never did say that. Habib added that it was an indication of how violent times then were around Tilden that when Joseph sprinted away from the school with gun still in hand, his assailants ran right after him. âThatâs how tough these kids were, you know, theyâd just seen one dead. None of them at least had any guns on them themselves. And they just still took off running after him. So you were dealing with kids that could be very violent.â This was the context in which Joseph would be sentenced. THE SENTENCE Joseph White was sentenced in the early spring 1994, nearly a year and a half after the fall 1992 shooting at Tilden High. Karen White spoke to the court on behalf of her son. She began by expressing her sorrow for the Lawson family and the loss of their son. She expressed the love of her family for their own son. She explained that âhe acted under his per- ceived notion that he was in mortal danger for his lifeâ and that âgiven the depressed ghetto area in which this situation took place, it is not at all unlikely or unimaginable that a teen would resort to violence with a weapon.â Karen White concluded that her son had made a terrible mis- take. âAnd myself, I have made some mistakes, and I know you have to pay consequences for them. But I donât see what his life or most of his life behind prison walls can serve.â The sentencing judge stressed the issues of personal responsibility and protection of the community. He observed that Joseph White had engaged in earlier acts for which he had suffered few consequences. He
183SHOOTING AT TILDEN HIGH focused first on the theft of the stereos from the train boxcar, for which he had pleaded guilty and was otherwise essentially unpunished. The ab- sence of punishment for this theft clearly disturbed the judge, who com- mented that âof course, all the 15-year-olds, they are well-versed in what happens in this county. And 15-year-olds know that when they steal, nothing happens to them. They go back home.â He then noted that Joseph was also a member of the Mickey Cobras and that he apparently had decided âwithin the confines of that gang in his school, that allowed him certain leeway and rights regarding his conduct with other boys who belong to other gangs.â Finally, the judge noted that Joseph had fathered a child that he clearly could not financially support. The judge completed the three strikes analogy by concluding âI think society is tired of people who are 15 who make these kinds of judgments.â The judge retold the events leading up to the shooting and wondered why Joseph had not tried to find other ways of solving the gambling dispute. He asked the apparently rhetorical question, âWhy didnât Jo- seph White go back to school and pay back the $40, go to the principal, apologize for what happened?â An unidentified voice from the public gallery echoed this question, âWhy didnât Joseph do those things?â The judge continued by dismissing the self-defense claim, explaining âself- defense does not allow you to go to school with a loaded revolver and then claim later that unarmed people are threatening you and that you are defending your own life.â He again noted of Joseph that âhe did not seek help from authorities.â An unidentified male voice again was heard and the judge asked the speaker to identify himself, saying, âI donât know who you are. You need to tell us.â MR. WRIGHT: My name is Kenneth Wright, and I am Joseph Whiteâs uncle. I donât condone his wrong. I have one thing to say. The teacher did take the money. If she had came forth with that moneyâ THE COURT: She who? MR. WRIGHT: His teacher. They were in the hallway shooting dice; the police came; they broke and ran. They left the money on the floor. She took it. They thought he had it. THE COURT: A teacher from the school? MR. WRIGHT: Yes, sir, and she was fired. Josephâs uncle obviously wanted the judge to have a better sense of why this young man felt so trapped in his situation and unable to turn to his parents, the school, or the police for help. Without condoning Josephâs violent solution, his uncle wanted the judge to consider the circumstances
184 DEADLY LESSONS: UNDERSTANDING LETHAL SCHOOL VIOLENCE that could mitigate his sentence. âI wanted you to get that part,â his uncle pleaded and then conceded, âhe had no business with a gun, good enough.â For the sentencing judge, the gun and the resulting killing in a school were everything. He explicitly dismissed the youth or other circum- stances of Joseph White as mitigating factors. âIt is time for everyone to understand,â the judge concluded, âthat 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.â Joseph was sentenced to 45 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections on the charge of first degree mur- der, with sentences on the other charges to be served concurrently. BEFORE AND AFTER TILDEN 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 con- nected 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 none- theless 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 mayorâs office and on the Chicago Board of Educa- tion. 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 Chi- cago, 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. âThey have metal detectors to protect pilots and passengers from armed
185SHOOTING AT TILDEN HIGH terrorists,â Jackson observed. âIâm convinced that high school classrooms should be as safe as airports. Teachers and students should be as safe as pilots and passengers.â The apparent connection between problems of rising youth violence in the community and in the schools also attracted the interest of recently elected Mayor Richard Daley. As a former stateâs attorney, Daley was ready and eager to tackle this issue. School safety represented the conver- gence of two of Daleyâs core campaign issuesâcrime and education. Ef- forts to increase the safety of students promised to draw the support of both the teachers and parents of public schoolchildren. The Daley administration sought a policy solution that could be implemented systemwide and, it was hoped, bring rapid and dramatic results. Such a solution would require widespread compliance and there- fore the support of targeted schools as well as the Board of Educationâ which was charged with setting the overall budget and implementing education policies for the school system as a whole. The support of indi- vidual schools was necessary because, under the school systemâs 1988 decentralization mandate (Illinois Public Act 85-1418), each schoolâs local school council (LSC) was given discretion over most matters of policy implementationâincluding school security and discipline. The prevailing attitude among the LSCs was reflected in the com- ments of Sheila Castillo, executive director of the Chicago Association of Local School Councils, who told the Chicago Reporter, âEach [school] should decide which measures are appropriate, which could include at-random searches, selective use of detectors, or anti-gang programs.â So it would have been politically imprudent for the mayor or the City Council to impose specific measures on the entire school system without first obtaining a measure of support from the LSCs as well as the Board of Education The support of the LSCs and the board were by no means guaranteed. First, many local school councils were carefully nurturing their emergent autonomyâespecially with respect to discretionary spendingâand were therefore disinclined to concede authority to the central administration. Similarly, the board, until 1995, consisted of 15 members who were not appointed by the mayor. This fact, along with the presence of public input before and at each meeting, meant that the board felt accountable to the general public as well as the central administration. One board mem- ber, who served during the period 1990 to 1995, reported that she consci- entiously fielded calls from the public âall the time.â She accordingly described the activity of the board as âvery political,â resulting in long debates on many issues. Thus, implementing any systemwide education reforms in Chicago required a broader base of support than is necessary in most policy do-
186 DEADLY LESSONS: UNDERSTANDING LETHAL SCHOOL VIOLENCE mains. This task was especially challenging given that Mayor Daley was proposing school safety solutions that were largely unheard of in other cities. In the mayorâs own words, âChicago led the nation and addressed head-on the challenge of improving school safetyâtaking steps that at the time many felt went too far.â The first such far-reaching and contro- versial initiative was a threefold expansion of Chicago police patrols in public high schools in 1990. This initiative received the necessary budget- ary commitment from the board and encountered relatively little opposi- tion from the LSCs. According to a board member, a few LSCs actually did oppose police officers in their schools. However, they were outnum- bered by people, such as the principal of Tilden, Hazel Steward, who welcomed police involvement in response to serious problems in keeping order. It is also noteworthy that the LSCs did not incur any direct costs for the added patrolsâwhich may also explain why more concerted op- position to the police never materialized. Mayor Daleyâs highest profile initiativeâadding walk-through metal detectors to all city high schoolsâwas a completely different matter. Metal detectors were at that time a major issue, in spite of the support the idea also had received from Jesse Jackson. A major concern was that implementation of the metal detectors impinged on the schools in ways even more intrusive than the police. Opposition to metal detectors flowed from several other concerns. Some argued that metal detectors projected the image of schools as dangerous places and drove a wedge of distrust between students and staff. A board member noted that âsome of the parents didnât like the idea.â They objected âthat this wasnât a good image for the schools.â Some student advocates further argued that de- tectors represented a violation of student rights. However, the most tell- ing opposition came from school administrators, who questioned whether metal detectors were needed in their schools, whether they merited the costs in terms of manpower (i.e., trained personnel to operate them and teachers and volunteers to secure unmonitored entrances to school build- ings), and especially whether the time taken away from instruction was justified to clear students through the detectors each time they entered the schools. The process of moving students through the detectors could take more than an hour each morning. Mayor Daley and his subordinates adopted several strategies to neu- tralize the political opposition to metal detectors. First, the mayor, with the assistance of the school patrol units that he helped establish, amassed and disseminated the statistical information necessary to show that weap- ons and violent crime in schools were a serious problem. For example, in fall 1991 (September 26, 1991), the school patrol unit reported through a news release that during their first year of operation âthey made 153 arrests for carrying guns and 380 arrests for carrying knives and the
187SHOOTING AT TILDEN HIGH like.â The next year they reported confiscating 192 guns (June 5, 1992). The confiscationsâmany of which resulted from metal detector useâ offered evidence of the potential utility of the detectors to prevent serious violence. Armed with these fresh figures suggesting the need for metal detec- tors, Mayor Daley pursued a second strategy of minimizing the costs of the metal detectors to the school system. He (June 5, 1992) announced a plan in the early summer of 1992 to purchase from city funds two walk- through metal detectors and four handheld detectors for any Chicago high school that requested them. This initiative did not utilize funds from the Board of Educationâs limited budget and thereby preempted fiscal objections on the part of board members. The board responded by voting in September to amend their search and seizure policy and by requiring schools to approve safety and security plans that provided for the use of metal detectors. Tilden was among the first high schools that accepted Mayor Daleyâs offer. While Daley managed to win the support of the school board, the facts about gun seizures and the cityâs coverage of costs were not suffi- cient, even with board support, to persuade many LSCs to install and operate the metal detectors. As of fall 1992âone month before the Tilden shootingâ27 of the cityâs 75 public high schools and special schools had not yet taken up the cityâs offer to provide metal detectors (October 22, 1992). Mayor Daley responded by publicly naming each of these schools at a news conference, thus implying that the school administratorsâand not the police departmentâwould henceforth be considered responsible for weapons-related injuries or deaths occurring inside their schools. A principal (October 22, 1992) of a school that had not chosen to install the detectors was quoted in the media as saying that walk-through metal detectors, as opposed to locker searches and handheld metal detec- tors, presented âstaffing problems.â Another principal (October 23, 1992) observed, âwe thought it would send the wrong message, that we wonât trust them and that this is a prison,â adding, âwe made a decision not to do it for reasons we thought were valid, and now we have to back off on it because of a guilt trip from the mayor.â According to Thomas Byrne, the deputy chief of the school patrol units, these 27 schools were not the only ones resisting the metal detec- tors. He observed that some schools had accepted the metal detectors but were generally not operating them themselves. Rather, these schools operated their detectors selectively on the occasion of random searches that were conducted, with the help of the school patrol units, by the Board Security, who generally utilized their own metal detectors for this purpose.
188 DEADLY LESSONS: UNDERSTANDING LETHAL SCHOOL VIOLENCE Tilden High School was among the latter group. Hazel Steward, who was Tildenâs principal through this turbulent period, explains that Tildenâs own metal detectors were in operation about once a month prior to the shooting, because âit took a lot of extra staff and police.â She added, âIt wasnât mandatory, so we did it periodically; that was the way it worked.â 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 Daleyâs 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 respon- sibility for the fatality on the school by implying that the shooting could have been prevented if on that day and all others the schoolâs metal detectors were fully utilized. The school superintendent, Ted Kim- brough (November 20, 1992), earlier had been less judgmental, suggest- ing that the random metal detector searches employed at Tilden at this time were âstandard procedure.â 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 effectiveâthough unpleasantâsolution 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 con- siderable cost. Metal detectors are âour most awful failure,â Greene la- mented after the Tilden shooting, âboth as a symbol of today and a sign- post to our childrenâs future.â Deputy Byrne credits the Tilden incident with laying to rest any lin- gering doubts about the use of metal detectors in the cityâs high schools. His view was that after the Tilden incident, everybody jumped on board. âFrom November 1992 to the present theyâre in full compliance with the
189SHOOTING AT TILDEN HIGH metal detector program. Up until that point it was a tough sell. . . . The metal detector program flew off from that day on. All the excuses, all the talk about manning them, and the searches, all the different problems, from November 1992 and on, it was no longer a problem.â Tildenâs Principal Steward remembers the period somewhat differently, recalling that about five high schools still declined to install metal detectors after the shooting and complied only when they were required to do so. The Board of Education (Chicago Reporter, 1998) spent about $200,000 of its own funds on metal detectors from 1993 to 1998. The support of the Board of Education and the LSCs was buttressed further by the Chicago City Council. Less than a week after the Tilden shooting, the council approved Mayor Daleyâs resolution that urged schools without metal detectors to take advantage of the offer to provide a detector to any school that wanted one. The Chicago Tribune reported some aldermen at the meeting âblasted school officials who have not installed the devices or are using them selectively.â STILL LATER The implementation of metal detectors was the first of a series of security and disciplinary initiatives endorsed by the school superinten- dent and the Chicago Board of Education. In 1995, the Board of Education adopted a new Uniform Disciplinary Code that mandated suspension and expulsion for certain offenses. The new policy was in response to the reauthorization of the federal Gun-Free Schools Act, which required states to pass laws requiring schools to expel for at least a year students who brought weapons to school. The Chicago Board of Education, like others across the country, saw this as the time to revise the Uniform Disciplinary Code, creating mandatory minimum penalties, often including extended suspensions for a variety of offenses, and requiring police referrals for serious instances of assault, battery, disorderly conduct, and other minor offenses and all instances of gang activity, drug violations, and more serious offenses. The resulting set of mandated punishments became collectively and popularly known as the zero tolerance policy. In subsequent years, the board further increased the penalties for certain offenses. Paul Vallas, who was Mayor Daleyâs 1995 choice for superintendent of Chicagoâs public schools, took a leadership role in ad- vocating tough new penalties and policies. In spring 1997, with the en- couragement of Vallas, the City Council made student involvement in drug and other serious offenses committed off school grounds subject to expulsion (March 11, 1997). In addition, in 1996 the board passed a reso- lution mandating that each school adopt a dress code and consider school
190 DEADLY LESSONS: UNDERSTANDING LETHAL SCHOOL VIOLENCE uniforms as an option. A sizable majority of Chicago public schools now have strict dress code policies. In February 2000, in the wake of the accidental shooting of an 11- year-old student at Duke Ellington Elementary School, Superintendent Vallas urged the daily use of metal detectors in elementary schools and ordered the purchase of 1,000 additional handheld metal detectors. By April 2000, not long after the discharge of a gun inside Parkside Elemen- tary School, the proposed number of metal detectors had reached 4,000, to be combined with 178 additional off-duty police officers (allowing at least one off-duty Chicago officer in each elementary school), with the money to support these commitments to come from federal antipoverty funds. These school security initiatives reflect and reinforce an administration, under the proactive leadership of Paul Vallas, that centralized control over local school issues, especially from schools that, including Tilden, the ad- ministration had now placed on probation. It seems reasonable to ask whether the central administration would have felt empowered to impose or propose these measures on individual schools if the Tilden shooting had not so vividly set the disciplinary agenda in Chicago. There is no way to unequivocally answer this question. Still, the strong response from the mayor and the board to the Tilden shooting at least set a precedent of centralized control that was repeated regularly during the 1990s. THE IMPACT To more fully understand the impact of the Tilden incident for Chi- cago schools, one must examine the response of particular schools. Not- withstanding the significance of the centralized initiatives, in the decen- tralized context of Chicago public schools, change must also find support at the local level. Under the State Public Act 85-1418, each Chicago public school is permitted considerable discretion in determining how to pre- vent and discipline misconduct and crime. Furthermore, schools still vary in the manner and extent to which they implement mandates from the city and the central administration (Bryk et al., 1998). A logical starting point for our analysis is Tilden High School. Other schools responded in their own way to the incident and are discussed later. Meanwhile, the shooting dramatically and immediately changed several aspects of the school climate at Tilden. Most notably for our purposes, the shooting fostered an almost immediate emphasis on school security and violence prevention. Changes in security were evident nearly instantly. After the shoot- ing, Principal Steward reestablished control of the situation by ordering everyone to report to their next classroom, under supervision of their
191SHOOTING AT TILDEN HIGH teachers. She then dealt with the arriving authorities, who included the police and the superintendent, as well as the press. Steward explains that she kept the students in the classrooms all day in order to prevent any retaliation for the shooting. According to Deputy Chief Thomas Byrne of the school patrol units, keeping the students in the classroom was impera- tive, so all students could be screened by metal detectors on their way out of the school building to find Joseph Whiteâs gun. Despite these efforts, the murder weapon was never recovered. From that November afternoon forward, the metal detectors became fully operational at Tilden. Steward was quoted in the Chicago Tribune explaining that it took one and a half hours for all the students to file through the metal detectors on the Monday morning after the shooting, delaying the start of classes by more than an hour (November 27, 1992). Extra officers were assigned to Tilden after the shooting. Steward hired the staff necessary to run the detectors every day. While increasing school security was also Stewardâs priority prior to the shooting, after the shooting she recalls immediately recruiting more volunteers from the community, who were also now more forthcoming. By January 1993, she had used the schoolâs discretionary funds to increase the number of paid full-time security âvolunteersâ (who were paid the minimum wage) from about 10 to about 42. Significantly, Steward re- ports recruiting these volunteers from the surrounding community, em- phasizing that âI had more volunteers than I did staff, but it was because I used brothers, uncles, fathers, aunts, mothers, so they knew the kidsâ Steward reports complete support from teachers and the LSC for this action, even though the money could otherwise have been spent on im- provements in instruction. The increase in policing and security coincided with a surge in arrest activity after the shooting. During the 49 school days immediately prior to the November 1992 shooting, 5 arrests were made at Tilden High School. In the same number of school days following the shooting, 17 arrests were made. Notably, some further short-term security assistance came from an un- expected sourceâthe white community surrounding Tilden High School. She explains, âthe community surrounded the school. . . . For several weeks the community showed up for security. . . . It was led by a Methodist minister. . . . They showed up in support of the school. . . . They patrolled outside the building, acting as security.â Steward also integrated the larger community into her programmatic efforts to prevent violence. On the Monday after the shooting, grief coun- selors were deployed to the school. Sixty students volunteered for grief counseling on the Monday after the shooting. Steward recalls that four crisis teams were operating in the school.
192 DEADLY LESSONS: UNDERSTANDING LETHAL SCHOOL VIOLENCE Several initiatives evolved into ongoing prevention programs at Til- den. In response to the shooting, Steward instituted a Rights of Passage Program for teachers and students. She maintains that this program, which emphasizes positive role-taking and leadership skills, empowered students and teachers to unite against gangs and seek alternatives to gang activity. Steward contends that problems of violence already had begun to decline prior to the Tilden shooting, but that these efforts precipitated further declines. Steward insists that other common weapons against school violence, suspensions and expulsions and more stringent screening of potential students, were not part of her arsenal. Tilden actually reported a decline in suspensions during the 1994â1995 school year. Nonetheless, a former substitute teacher who returned to teach at Tilden a couple of years after the shooting suggests that Steward found less formal ways to exclude gang members from the school. âI donât think that they felt that they had to take just any student that came in off the street,â he explained, âAnd so I felt like there was a lot of . . . screening of students.â Steward disagrees and maintains that the gangs actually did not leave the school but rather âwent undergroundâ and shifted their activities to outside the school. She insists that the primary disciplinary changes she instituted were âhall sweepsâ to remove students lingering in the halls. These students were informed of the schoolâs rules for hallways and class- rooms and about the consequences of breaking them. âThey could not bring their activities into the building,â she observes, âand if they did, then there were consequences including transferring out. . . . They didnât want to go anywhere . . . and they knew I was serious.â Some of Stewardâs efforts apparently caught the attention of others in the Chicago public school system. She recalls that other principals sought her help in implementing policies and programs in their schools. For instance, she reports she was asked to give workshops for other princi- pals in âhow to react when a crisis occurs.â Furthermore, other schools adopted some of her programs, including Rights of Passage. In fall 1995, Steward was appointed to the position of regional superintendentâa po- sition that allowed her to mentor other principals on a full-time basis. As regional superintendent she was also authorized to oversee the disciplin- ary decisions, such as expulsions, that were imposed at schools in her region. BROADER IMPLICATIONS The previous sections addressed the question of whether the tragic shooting incident at Tilden high school had a lasting impact on the school and the system as a whole. We conclude based on our interviews with the
193SHOOTING AT TILDEN HIGH principal, teachers, and school board members that the incident clearly expanded the prevalence of metal detectors and the frequency of their use. We also conclude that the incident gave the mayor a new position of increased political leverage over school disciplinary policy matters. In- stalling metal detectors in all the high schools was an important accom- plishment for the Daley administration. As explained, the metal detectors were the first of many successful efforts on the part of the mayorâs and the superintendentâs offices to increase their authority with regard to security and discipline in schools. The publicized school shootings, even some of those that took place outside of Chicago, incrementally widened a win- dow of opportunity for the mayorâs and the superintendentâs offices to advance systemwide school safety initiatives. How do we make sense of the response to the Tilden shooting? Two sociologists, Burns and Crawford (1998), have analyzed official responses to well-publicized school shootings as a âmoral panic.â We do not believe that this fully or accurately captures what happened in Chicago; nonethe- less, this perspective raises important issues. Sociologists argue that a moral panic can occur when a large segment of the public and its leaders show a heightened concern about a problem and identify a particular behavior or group of people as the cause of the problem. The behavior or group thus pinpointed then becomes the target of policy intervention in response to public opinion and pressure, which is often mediated through the press. Burns and Crawford (1998) describe the policy response to school shootings in the 1990s as a moral panic, because the threat of shootings in schools is often exaggerated in the media, and because this exaggerated picture can stimulate a largely puni- tive policy response. The events preceding and following from the Tilden shooting do not fully fit the moral panic analysis. It may be true that the Tilden incident led to exaggerated impressions of the problems of actual weapons in schools or their frequent use. While the locker and metal detector search- ers and other police activities did uncover a sizable number of knives and guns, and while surveys did indicate that students frequently brought weapons to school (Illinois Criminal justice Authority, 1991)âthere was little evidence that students, especially innocent bystanders, were fre- quently victimized by students with weapons in Chicago schools. Kill- ings almost never occurred in these schools, and they were not the kind of random shootings early accounts suggested. At Joseph Whiteâs trial, it became fully apparent that this was a gang-related incident with gang- involved causes and consequences that were specific and targeted. The title of a Chicago Tribune editorial two days after the shooting, âBody Count Rises in the Public Schoolsâ and portrayals of the victims Delondyn
194 DEADLY LESSONS: UNDERSTANDING LETHAL SCHOOL VIOLENCE Lawson and Ching Wilson as random bystanders, helped to form a dis- torted picture (November 24, 1992). A more convincing case could be made that routine fights were a serious problem that were disrupting learning in many schools. Indeed, a serious melee involving police and students caused a wall to collapse in another school on the same day as the Tilden incident. Accordingly, many board members were pushing for a greater emphasis on teaching nonviolent conflict resolution rather than for metal detectors. The net result is that while concerns about shootings, stabbings, and killings may have been somewhat exaggerated, concerns about violence in the high schools were not. The specific push for metal detectors is also not entirely consistent with the moral panic framework, in that it appeared to be a relatively measured response to concerns about violence in the neighborhood and guns in the school. Recall that the call for metal detectors was first made by Jesse Jackson and only subsequently taken up by Mayor Daley. Fur- thermore, in choosing this policy response, the mayor also sidestepped what many might have expected from a nonminority politician and former criminal prosecutor: a call to try Joseph White and others in the adult courts. This transfer to adult court was a decision made by prosecutors and with no public comment from the mayor. Nor does the moral panic framework adequately account for the long-term course of action on the part of the mayor and the boardâs cen- tral office. It is clear from our observations that Mayor Daley and School Superintendents Kimbrough and later Vallas did not push for metal de- tectors merely to allay the public concern about school violence. Rather, the metal detectors were more clearly a part of the longer-term ambition of the administration to centralize the setting of school security and disci- plinary policy and to make schools accountable to the administration. Other organizational and political interests were also served by the metal detectors. Some of our respondents emphasized that the detectors, which provided more arrest opportunities, helped to make the school police feel safer, while also providing more work for off-duty police officersâwhich helped the mayor to gain support from the Chicago Police Department. Subsequent actions of the mayor and the superintendent also do not fit neatly into the moral panic framework. It seems that some incidents, such as the accidental shooting in the Duke Ellington Elementary School and the discharge of a weapon in Parkside Elementary School did not generate an outpouring of public concern that could be characterized as a moral panic. Still, these incidents did provide further examples of unre- solved problems that the mayor and the superintendent could point to in reinforcing their calls for more security in the Chicago public schools. The school board security initiatives in the later 1990s, especially the zero
195SHOOTING AT TILDEN HIGH tolerance policies, occurred after the heightened anxiety over the Tilden shooting had largely subsided. It might have made more sense in the context of reduced and de- clining violence to reassure the publicâafter each of these accidental shootings, or after each incident on the national stage, such as the one at Columbine High School in Littleton, Coloradoâthat Chicago schools were now largely free of shootings, and indeed never did experience the kinds of random rampages experienced in less urbanized American set- tings. This possibility merits more attention than it has yet received in drawing lessons from the Tilden High School and subsequent Chicago experiences. Still, it is noteworthy that nearly 800 weapons were confiscated in Chicago public schools between January 1987 and October 1990. Since the Tilden incident, no student has been killedâand apparently only one shot (accidentally)âinside a Chicago public school (February 15, 2000). Deputy Byrne attributes this fact to the metal detectors as well as to the concerted effort on the part of the school patrol units, which began before the Tilden shootings, to make arrests for crime in or near schools. Byrne summarized his view of the issue by observing that âGod only knows how many crimes we prevented through all the guns that we confiscated and arrests that we made.â At least one other member of the school board we interviewed also attributes the absence of any school shootings to the metal detectors. Indeed, this board member also credits the metal detec- tors with declines in problems of gang intimidation, as students harbored less fear of gang members. The nine-year hiatus in fatal shootings may seem remarkable for a public school system in a city the size of Chicago, especially in light of recurrent national anxieties about school shootings since the mid-1990s. Still, the claim that metal detectors deserve the credit cannot be accepted uncritically. First, one must rule out the possibility that this outcome would have been achieved in the absence of any policy changes. While this possibility may seem remote on its face, it bears note that killings in schools and other in-school shootings actually were rare in the several years prior to the Tilden incident as well. A search of the archives of the Chicago Tribune since 1985 revealed only one murder inside a Chicago public school prior to the Tilden incidentâand these were years in which the juvenile homicide rate in Chicago was higher than it was during most of the 1990s. Second, one must rule out competing explanations for the absence of school shootings. As mentioned, Chicago police officers had been as- signed to patrol the cityâs high schools since September 1990. In addition, the Board of Education doubled their security budget, helping schools hire more security guards. Many improvements to the physical condi-
196 DEADLY LESSONS: UNDERSTANDING LETHAL SCHOOL VIOLENCE tions of school facilities also occurred during this period. The wave of exclusionary policies, which began with the zero tolerance disciplinary code in 1995 and included other policies, such as increased alternative schooling for youths with disciplinary problems, may also have played a role. However, as Hazel Steward observed, exclusion of students was very common before the zero tolerance initiative began. In the earlier period, exclusion was accomplished informally, as problem students were simply âtold not to come backâ and were recorded as dropouts. The observations of Principal Steward at Tilden High School remind us that individual schools adopted a variety of approaches to steer their students away from gangs, drugs, and violence. A full explanation of why Chicago public schools now seem so remarkably safe must take into account not only the policy response from above, in the mayorâs and superintendentâs offices, but also from below. The leaders in the trenches of Chicago public schools responded to the tragedy of Tilden High School with courage and innovation. Joseph White is still serving the first quarter of his 45 year sentence for the Tilden shooting, at Menard State Prison in Southern Illinois, 300 miles south of the school where it happened. Even if he is paroled after serving half of his sentence, the child he fathered before being incarcer- ated will be an adult before Joseph White leaves prison. This part of his life is lost forever. His mother was the first to say the shooting was a tragedy for everyone involved. REFERENCES Barrett, J. 1987 Work and Community in the Jungle: Chicagoâs Packinghouse Workers, 1894-1922. Ur- bana: University of Illinois Press. Bennett, W., J. Dilulio and J. Walters 1996 Body Count: Moral Poverty and How to Win Americaâs War Against Crime and Drugs. New York: Simon & Schuster. Block, C.R., and C. Martin 1997 Updated Graphs: Major Trends in Chicago Homicide: 1965-1995. Chicago: Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority. Blumstein, A., and R. Rosenfeld 1998 Explaining recent trends in U.S. homicide rates. Journal of Criminal Law & Crimi- nology 86:10â36. Bryk, A., P. Sebring, D. Kerbow, S. Rollow and J. Easton 1998 Charting Chicago School Reform: Democratic Localism as a Lever for Change. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. Burns, R., and C. Crawford 1998 School shootings, the media and public fear: Ingredients for a moral panic. Crime, Law & Social Change 32:147â168.
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