Under Friday night lights across the nation, high school football teams compete on the gridiron and invoke school pride. There is a winner and a loser, as reflected on the scoreboard. Some fans will be glad while others will be sad. Sometimes under those Friday night lights…the biggest losers aren’t even football players.
The small city of Brookhaven, Mississippi lost two of its police officers one week ago today. Both Cpl. Zack Moak, 31, and Patrolman James White, 35, were gunned down by 25-year-old Marquis Flowers mere moments after arriving to investigate a “shots fired” call. The two slain Brookhaven policemen were eulogized on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively. On Friday, however, Brookhaven’s rival Forest Hill High School (FHHS) marching band decided it would portray the slaying of SWAT cops as a half-time “skit,” on the field, while dismayed spectators watched the macabre enactment.
FHHS students wearing doctor’s lab coats and nurse’s attire while wielding toy rifles pointed at a few would-be police officers on the ground, seemingly begging the “armed” assailants for their lives, was recorded by many citizens armed with cell phones. An unending string of Facebook postings portraying the ghastly skit were sprea to/by all manner of law enforcement-related pages.
Why anyone would accept such a display as credible, appropriate, tasteful, artful, performance-worthy and decent is…incomprehensible.
The Mississippi Association of Chiefs of Police (MACP) became privy, compelling a written response: “On behalf of police chiefs throughout Mississippi, we find the act of allowing [Forest Hill High School] students to portray themselves as holding SWAT team members hostage with a weapon to be deplorable, disgusting, and outrageous.
“It is never okay for students to participate in something that defiles and desecrates a law enforcement officer. The adults in charge here should know better. The lesson we wish others to take from this is that there are consequences for actions.
“In the midst of our efforts to work towards better relations with our communities, we are saddened
to see this behavior glorifying actions that hurt families, communities, and our colleagues all too regularly.”
The MACP mentioned “consequences for actions” preceded by “adults in charge.” What might that look like?
Of the voluminous callings for school employees’ terminations, are there more severe consequences for allowing this audacious act to go on full display? In my jurisdiction, state statutes were specifically legislated for educational institutions and the proper governance thereof. Although I never served as a school resource officer (SRO), my colleagues chronically moaned about “the parents who come to the campus and raise cane like little children,” resulting in charges for “disrupting a school function.” That is one applicable example pertaining to criminal charges imposed on those who show their ass where children are trying to grow academically. Such instances unfortunately leave impressions to potentially be dealt with down the road.
One Facebook poster (protestor) who stated he resides a few miles from the high school telegraphed that it is illegal to possess either authentic or toy guns on school district property. Besides the expected oversight of and approval for the students to put on such a graphic, offensive skit, did band teachers and/or school officials aware of the nuances turn a blind eye to the toy guns factor, in effect conspiring these students’ law-breaking behavior?
No less noteworthy, nowadays, thanks to active-shooter potential, every high school athletic event must be attended by law enforcers. One can imagine the impressions left upon the cops on the sidelines and/or in the stands, boggled by what they are seeing while also having legal responsibility and lawful right to arrest each and every toy gun-toting student violating the law? Essentially, these acts portraying malice were committed in the presence of officers, allaying the often murky he said/she said testimonies delaying justice. Moreover, the myriad attendees recording the “freedom of expression” (albeit grotesque) were subjected to an episode of do-what-we-want attitudes on government property. Public schools are owned and operated by the local governments charged with providing an education. No where does it say freak shows and shock skits are part of the package, and that reverts back to the question: Who authorized and oversaw the heinous half-time abomination?
Mississippi police chief and MACP President Walter Armstrong echoed the sentiments of what many police executives across the nation harbor: “Particularly disturbing is that this occurred in Brookhaven where two of the fallen officers were memorialized and buried this week.
“Schools should be places where we partner with school officials to keep building trust and respect between the public and law enforcement. For our part, we will continue to push for that outcome.”
Chiming in, Jackson, MS Mayor Chokwe Lumumba had this to say: “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.”
This is unacceptable in a civilized society. Someone should be held accountable. https://t.co/hq3hJnj4xA
— Phil Bryant (@PhilBryantMS) October 6, 2018
On the Mississippi Department of Public Safety (MDPS) site I found the following rebuke: “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, MS. This is highly inappropriate considering the recent loss of two Brookhaven Police officers to senseless violence.”
Incidentally, the FHHS marching band skit-actors are dubbed the “Patriots,” the school’s mascot. Patriot defined: a person who vigorously supports their country and is prepared to defend it against enemies or detractors. How is such a skit debasing law enforcement officers with utter contempt by downing them and aiming firepower at their heads even remotely useful in any context? Are police officers deemed enemies or detractors? If so, by whom? Marching band leaders? How is this skit in any way a fruitful lesson for students of any age? Teach ’em to hate those who maintain law and order from a young age? How are school officials behind this in any way not in the least shamed for bastardizing the rapport with young minds to the extent of conspiring in atrocious behaviors?
According to WLBT News, the school’s band director is “on administrative leave pending an investigation.” That’s one.
The superintendent overseeing Jackson Public Schools, Dr. Errick L. Greene offered apologies on Saturday: “On behalf of the Jackson Public School (JPS) District, I want to offer my deep and sincere apologies for the performance by the Forest Hill High School band during Friday’s football half-time show in Brookhaven. Based loosely on the movie, ‘John Q,’ the band’s performance depicted a hostage scene that included toy guns.
“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. For this we sincerely apologize to all, and we pledge to do better in the future.” Doing great from the get-go is the optimal step before remedial necessity is engendered. That all points to who was supervising this fiasco. Clearly, it wasn’t an impromptu event.
Superintendent Greene continued: “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.”
As MDPS Commissioner Marshall Fisher stated, “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.” The message is clear. The question is: Why?
I suspect the only illuminating elements on the field were Friday night lights, certainly crystal clear after a skit casting unmistakable gloom.