Jackson, MS – The Forest Hill High School band has been suspended from performing for the rest of the academic year, after they depicted the execution of police officers during a halftime skit in Brookhaven on Oct. 5.
Just one week after Brookhaven Police Patrolman James White and Corporal Zack Moak were murdered in the line of duty, the Forest Hill High School marching band traveled to Brookhaven with the football team for the game.
During their halftime performance, students dressed as nurses and doctors used fake rifles to depict the execution of students dressed as police officers.
The Mississippi High Schools Activities Association (MHSAA) imposed the penalty against the band on the basis of “inappropriate conduct,” WLBT reported.
More specifically, the MHSAA found the performance was “unbecoming of a wholesome band program,” and that it demonstrated a “lack of administrative control.”
The sanction was immediately met with protest from some parents and members of the community, according to WAPT.
“There are some sensitivities that should have been considered, however, they were doing a performance based on what they practiced,” Reverend Dwayne Pickett told the news outlet. “And now, because of the Mississippi High School Sports Activities Association and because of the uproar, they have been suspended from performing for the all year.”
“We think that is unfair,” Pickett argued. “They deserve the right to be heard. They deserve the right to perform and do what they love to do.”
The reverend was part of a group of parents and religious leaders who held a press conference on Friday in defense of the high school band and its director, Demetri Jones.
Jones has been suspended since shortly after the incident occurred.
The group said it plans to appeal the MHSAA sanction, and claimed that Jones was unaware about the widely-publicized murders of the Brookhaven officers prior to the halftime performance, WLBT reported.
“Let me be clear,” Jackson City Councilman Aaron Banks told WAPT. “We all understand the bad timing for the field show considering what happened to the law enforcement officers there in Brookhaven.”
“However, we are against any punishment toward our children,” he added. “I don’t think anybody’s job should just be thrown out because of bad judgment. Yes, let’s talk about it, let’s discuss the wrong, let’s discuss how we can be more considerate, but we want to keep the program intact.”
“The children suffering are being punished on behalf of bad judgment, or a bad decision, does not need to happen,” Banks said.
Shortly after video footage of the halftime performance went viral, Jackson Public Schools Superintendent Errick L. Greene offered his “deep and sincere apologies for the performance,” the Jackson Free Press reported.
"The performance included toy-guns and the apparent shooting of a character in a dramatized scene that played out on the field as the band played. The scene is an interpretation of the movie 'John Q.,’" Greene confirmed.
"JPS has a great deal of respect and appreciation for our law enforcement partners," the superintendent continued. "The band’s performance does not depict the values and people in our community, and was incredibly insensitive to the students, families, law enforcement officials and the entire Brookhaven community. For this we sincerely apologize to all, and we pledge to do better in the future.”
“We have taken some initial actions in response to this matter, and you have my commitment that we will investigate it fully and take additional appropriate action with respect to procedures and personnel,” Greene said.
Brookhaven Mayor Joe Cox said that Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba personally apologized to him for the halftime show, WLOX reported.
“I offer my sincerest regrets to the Brookhaven community for the insensitivity that [was] portrayed during the Friday evening halftime show," Lumumba said in a statement to the Jackson Free Press. "There is an active investigation into the circumstances that led to this performance.”
Lumumba said he did not believe the Forest Hill students who participated in the show had a “malice intent,” and said the adults tasked with supervising and guiding them should have stepped in.
"Our students should have been instructed that this was neither the time or place for that performance,” he said.
In the film ‘John Q.,’ actor Denzel Washington played the role of a man whose son needed a lifesaving heart transplant that Washington’s character could not afford due to medical insurance limitations, the Jackson Free Press reported.
In one scene, the main character holds a SWAT officer hostage, which is vastly different than what appeared in the high school performance.
The Mississippi Department of Public Safety Commissioner Marshall Fisher said the performance “only exacerbates the war against law enforcement” across the country, WLOX reported.
“Mimicking acts of violence against law enforcement, or members of the public should never be condoned at a high school football game or any function whatsoever,” Fisher said. “I have to question whoever made this decision in regards to what message they are sending to our children.”
“This is unacceptable in a civilized society,” Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant said in a tweet the morning after the Forest Hill High School band’s performance. “Someone should be held accountable.”