JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Sanctions against a Mississippi high school band were upheld Tuesday after a halftime program depicting police officers held at gunpoint was performed in a town where two officers were shot to death.
The Mississippi High School Activities Association rejected an appeal from the Jackson school district to lift punishments against the Forest Hill High School band. The association said the band can’t march at remaining football games, although it can play in the stands while wearing full uniforms. The punishment already prevented the band from participating in the state marching band competition, but association Executive Director Don Hinton said the school’s concert band is eligible to compete in the state competition for those bands in the spring.
The band performed its halftime show, using fake guns, at an Oct. 5 football game in Brookhaven — six days after Brookhaven officer James White and Cpl. Zach Moak were fatally shot while answering a call of shots fired. White and Moak were buried by a grieving community with public funerals in the days before the halftime show.
The band director, Demetri Jones, said the show was a scene from the 2002 movie “John Q,” about a man who takes hostages to get medical treatment for his child. The skit ended with band members dressed as doctors pointing plastic guns at band members lying on the ground dressed as police officers. Jones said in a Facebook video that he had been busy preparing for band competitions and didn’t know officers had been killed in Brookhaven.
Jackson Superintendent Errick Greene fired Jones, although Jones has said he will appeal his firing.
Although the performance sparked outrage in the Brookhaven community, officials last week modulated their tone, saying Forest Hill’s students shouldn’t be punished for following the direction of their band director. Jackson school district officials and Forest Hill supporters also said they felt it was unfair for students to suffer for following their teacher’s directions.
“Our children did what we expected them to do, which is to obey instruction and leadership,” said Jackson school board attorney JoAnne Shepherd.
The association, though, was unmoved.
“It was an inappropriate performance, that’s why,” Hinton told The Associated Press when asked why the penalty should be upheld. He told reporters in a news conference earlier Tuesday that children should speak up “if they feel something isn’t right,” and defended the association, saying it must ensure “a safe, secure and harmonious environment” for high school athletic and extracurricular competition.
Hinton said that while it’s unusual to sanction non-athletic activities, many sports teams lose their rights to compete for state championships because of ineligible players and other infractions. He also said the association may reconsider the $2,500 fine it levied on Forest Hill.
Three Democratic state lawmakers who represent parts of Jackson released a statement Tuesday decrying the association’s refusal to reconsider.
“The facts do not warrant students being punished in this manner,” said state Sens. David Blount and Sollie Norwood and state Rep. Jarvis Dortch.
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