An East Tennessee State University White student was arrested this week after he wore a gorilla mask, carried rope and tried to pass out bananas at a Black Lives Matter protest.
Tristan Rettke (in mask) taunts protesting students. (Photo Credit/East Tennessean Twitter)
Freshman Tristan Rettke has been charged with civil rights intimidation. Video and photo showcase the masked student mocking the protestors.
According to the university’s newspaper, the East Tennessean, students were protesting the recent police shootings of Terrence Crutcher of Tulsa, Okla. and Keith Scott of Charlotte, N.C. In the middle of the demonstration, Rettke walked through the crowd in his gorilla mask, carrying bananas and a burlap sack with a Confederate flag on it.
Grant Madison, a junior at the Johnson City Tennessee university said he was talking with a friend when Rettke walked up behind him.
“He passed by me and handed me a banana. I snatched it out of his hand. I knew what he was trying to say, but I wasn’t going to try to retaliate against him.” Madison told the university newspaper.
Madison, who was livestreaming the event on Facebook, said Rettke stood there and taunted protestors for around 15 to 20 minutes.
“As younger Black folks…we don’t always see the same overt displays of racism our parents may have experienced or our grandparents.” he said. “For me, it was the first time I’ve experienced something so blatantly disrespectful and racist.
East Tennessee State University Public Safety officers soon led Rettke away from the protestors. Rettke told officers he bought the rope, bananas and gorilla mask a day before the protest, and attended “in an attempt to provoke the protestors,” according to a Johnson City, Tenn. Police Department report.
Madison stated that students later gathered to talk about the incident, and that many ultimately have forgiven Rettke.
“We hold no ill will towards him” he said. “I added him on Facebook, and want to speak with him about why he did it.”
At a press conference following the protest, university President Brian Noland said he was “saddened” by the incident. Other university officials released a statement saying they were “outraged” by Rettke’s actions at the protest.