BROOKHAVEN, Miss. (AP) — After initially expressing outrage, leaders in one Mississippi city now say high school band students should not be punished for a performance that depicted police officers being held at gunpoint.
The Brookhaven mayor and aldermen on Tuesday voted to ask the Mississippi High School Activities Association to lift a performance suspension from the band at Jackson’s Forest Hill High School, The Daily Leader reported. That came at the same time as Forest Hill band supporters were crowding a school board meeting in Jackson to protest the treatment of the band and likely firing of its director.
The band did its halftime show, using fake guns, at an Oct. 5 football game in Brookhaven — six days after two Brookhaven police officers were shot to death on duty. Brookhaven officer James White and Cpl. Zach Moak were shot and killed Sept. 29. They were buried by a grieving community with public funerals in the days before the halftime show.
The band director, Demetri Jones, says it 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.
In a Facebook video interview Monday with Jackson resident Othor Cain, Jones said he had been busy preparing for band competitions, had not paid attention to the news and did not know two police officers had been killed in Brookhaven.
He said he learned about the officers’ deaths soon after the halftime show, from an upset parent.
Jones said he will fight the Jackson Superintendent Errick Greene’s recommendation that he be fired as band director. Jackson Public Schools spokesman Sherwin Johnson would not answer questions Wednesday about the status of Jones’ job. Jones said he should receive a hearing within a month, before the school board considers whether to accept Greene’s recommendation.
Republican Gov. Phil Bryant is among those who have sharply criticized the band performance, repeatedly demanding that someone be fired. Four days after the band performance, the activities association issued a penalty notice saying the Forest Hill band couldn’t participate in the state marching band competition, which began Saturday, or in the state concert band competition in the spring. The association also told the band it couldn’t march at football games, although it’s allowed to sit in the stands and play. The association also fined the high school $2,500.
Brookhaven Mayor Joe Cox, who in an earlier statement had called for any Jackson school employee who knew in advance about the performance to be fired, on Tuesday called the show an act of “bad judgment” by the band director. But he said students shouldn’t be punished.
“An extreme punishment levied on the band members for an adult decision is patently unfair to those students, as well as to their current and future interests,” Cox said Tuesday night at City Hall, reading from a statement.
JPS Superintendent Dr. Errick Greene announced Tuesday the district would appeal the band’s suspension, though at the school board meeting he stuck by the board’s “personnel decision” regarding Jones, saying the halftime show placed students in danger. Others disagreed, though, praising Jones’ leadership of the band and saying the incident shouldn’t destroy his career.
“I really think that they should really give Mr. Jones his job back, because everyone makes mistakes,” band member Evan Butler told WAPT-TV.
Association spokesman Todd Kelly says there’s no defined timeline for considering an appeal.