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Band halftime program showing police held at gunpoint draws ire

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JACKSON, Miss. >> A Mississippi high school band is being barred from a state competition and some performances after a halftime skit depicting three police officers being held at gunpoint was performed in a community where two officers were shot to death last month.

Jackson school district Superintendent Errick Greene told The Associated Press this evening that the Mississippi High School Activities Association notified the district at midweek of the sanctions against the marching band at one of Jackson’s schools, Forest Hill High.

He said the association has prohibited the band from taking part in the yearly state competition that begins Saturday with regional evaluations. The band also is prohibited from wearing its regular uniforms or marching at football games the rest of the season, though Greene said members can play at games while sitting in the stands.

Greene said the district is considering an appeal.

“We don’t believe for a moment that any focus of wrongdoing or poor judgment should be placed on the students,” he said.

Association spokesman Todd Kelly wrote in an email that Jackson has five days to accept the sanctions or appeal.

Outcry against Forest Hill was swift after the Oct. 5 halftime performance at a football game at Brookhaven High School. That program ended with a skit that Greene has said was inspired by the 2002 movie John Q. In the movie, a father portrayed by Denzel Washington takes hospital staff, patients and a police officer hostage as he tries to force doctors to perform a life-saving transplant on his son.

Brookhaven officer James White and Cpl. Zach Moak were shot and killed Sept. 29 after responding to a call of shots fired. They were buried by a grieving community with public funerals. That was days before the skit was performed.

Greene said the school district has completed its investigation and has taken action against band director Demetri Jones. Greene didn’t specify the action, citing district policy that personnel actions remain confidential.

“We do not believe there was any malice intended against the Brookhaven community,” Greene said. “Unfortunately we do believe there has been a serious lapse in judgment.”

He said the district took what he considered “appropriate actions.”

Jones didn’t immediately respond late today to an email sent to him at his district email account.

Gov. Phil Bryant described the performance as “unacceptable in a civilized society.” Tonight, the Republican tweeted that “The adults who were involved with this disaster should be fired immediately. We will not accept a cover-up.” Bryant didn’t elaborate and a spokesman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Brookhaven Mayor Joe Cox earlier demanded that any employee of the Jackson district who knew about the performance beforehand be fired.

State Rep. Becky Currie, a Brookhaven Republican, said tonight she is calling for an investigation by a state legislative watchdog committee into Forest Hill’s policies and whether state money was used to buy the plastic mock guns used in the skit.

However, Currie also said that she didn’t think students should be faulted.

“I do not blame any children,” she said.

Jackson community leaders held a news conference today to demand sanctions be lifted and that Jones not be disciplined or fired. Jackson City Councilman Aaron Banks, a former Forest Hill band member, said the ban could mean that seniors would lose out on college band scholarships.

“I just don’t think children should be punished for a bad decision that a professional or an adult made,” Banks told The Associated Press later.

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