Jackson Public Schools officials are apologizing for an “insensitive” halftime performance in Brookhaven by the Forest Hill High School Band depicting guns being held on police.
The show has ignited an emotional response from the city where two police officers were killed in the line of duty last week.
Gov. Phil Bryant condemned the performance, tweeting “This is unacceptable in a civilized society. Someone should be held accountable.”
Photos of the show were circulated heavily on social media late Friday night. Two female band members wearing scrubs and one male band member wearing what appears to be a technician’s coat are shown pointing fake rifles at two students on the ground.
JPS Superintendent Errick Greene said the scene was a loose reenactment of the movie “John Q.”
In the film, a father played by Denzel Washington takes a group of hospital patients hostage in order to secure treatment for his son.
“JPS has a great deal of respect and appreciation for our law enforcement partners. 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,” JPS said in a statement. “For this we sincerely apologize to all, and we pledge to do better in the future. “
Patrolman James White, 35, and Cpl. Zach Moak, 31, were killed on Sept. 29. The officers were responding to a report of shots fired at a house.
Funerals for the men were held Wednesday and Thursday.
Moak’s and White’s call numbers were painted on the field at BHS in memory of their fatal shootings, which took place last Saturday morning. Theirs are not the first memorial numbers that have been painted on that field.
In 2017, BHS player Jordan Blackwell was killed in a shooting spree that also left Deputy William Durr dead. Blackwell’s No. 18 has been widely represented on the field and on uniforms and T-shirts in the stadium since that tragedy.
Friday night’s game was the sixth game of the high school’s football season.
District officials would not say whether the students had performed the show at previous games.
Greene said some “initial actions” have been taken.
A spokeswoman for Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba said the mayor received a report that the high school’s band director has been placed on administrative leave during the investigation.
“While I do not believe that there was a malice intent on behalf of the students that participated in this halftime show, I understand that we are ultimately not defined by the things that we set out to do but rather how we respond to the things that actually do take place,” Lumumba said in a statement. “It is the responsibility of adults to offer guidance to youth. Our students should have been instructed that this was neither the time or place for that performance.”
JPS Board President Jeanne Middleton Hairston told the Clarion Ledger she was aware of the performance but could not comment “at this time.”
Forrest Hill was uninvited to a band competition at Copiah Academy on Saturday.
“Parents and students, I have talked with BHS Administration. MSHAA has been contacted, and Forrest Hill has been uninvited to the competition at CA today,” the Brookhaven Band Boosters posted on their official Facebook page. “Coming from me — Please as humans, let us remember that while this has been a horrible situation, the students are the ones losing. They have worked hard on their show, unfortunately, their leadership chose the wrong form of show to perform. Please show the students compassion, and I personally pray that they will all learn something from this situation.”
On social media, people expressed their outrage at Forrest Hill’s halftime show. Not only were Brookhaven residents incensed, but law enforcement around the state were as well. Several legislators also voiced their anger.
“I have had a ton of messages on this completely despicable, disgusting, & disrespectful act from last night. I’ve been told Mississippi Department of Education has been notified & will be launching an investigation into this. Many of us including myself will be following up to make sure that this doesn’t happen again,” posted Rep. Tom Miles, D-Forest.
MDE spokeswoman Jean Cook said the agency is “closely monitoring” the situation.
The agency received a high volume of complaints concerning the performance.
Many people have called for the agency to sanction the district for the show.
In a statement Saturday evening, department officials called the performance in “poor taste and insensitive” but said the show was a school district matter.
“We expect better of our teachers and school leaders who are responsible for guiding students appropriately,” the statement said.
Commissioner Marshall Fisher said the Mississippi Department of Public Safety is “extremely disturbed by Forest Hill’s leadership approving and allowing their band to display a reenactment of violence against law enforcement at a high school football game in Brookhaven. This is highly inappropriate considering the recent loss of two Brookhaven Police officers to senseless violence.
“There is no excuse for such a distasteful performance. This only exacerbates the war against law enforcement in our nation,” Fisher continued. “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. The Governor’s School Safety Task Force is currently working to reduce school violence which is at an all-time high. I have to question whoever made this decision in regards to what message they are sending to our children.”
In addition to Moak and White, Trooper Josh Smith was killed in Alcorn County Sept. 30. If his death is shown to be in the line of duty, it will have been the bloodiest 24 hours for police officers in Mississippi’s history.