A Tennessee college student wore a gorilla mask to a Black Lives Matter protest and handed out bananas, an act of counter-protest that succeeded only in getting him arrested, the Washington Post is reporting.
Eighteen-year-old East Tennessee State University (ETSU) freshman Tristan Rettke told police that he had heard on social media that Black Lives Matter was planning a protest on the Johnson City, Tennessee, campus. For reasons known only to Rettke, he responded to the news by going to a store to buy a rope, a gorilla mask, and some bananas. He then grabbed a backpack with a Confederate flag and marijuana leaf on it, put on a pair of overalls, and then showed up at the protest barefoot.
— Mic (@mic) September 29, 2016
The BLM protesters declined to be provoked, however, and tried valiantly to ignore him. In the video, which you can see below, one protester was so visibly angry that his hands are shaking.
BLM protesters harassed by a white guy in a gorrilla mask w/ bananas, rope, and a confederate flag bag. Y’all mad at dude taking a knee tho pic.twitter.com/Zy5NxpiXv7
— Julie (@home_skilletb) September 28, 2016
One of the protesters, Jaylen Grimes, told campus newspaper The EastTennessean that she was not going to accept Rettke’s bait.
“I saw him come down the steps as a gorilla. He pulled out his burlap sack and then he had the rope and whatnot and then he started offering us bananas. A lot of us didn’t take it, but I just took as a sign of peace offering and just to show him that, just because he’s being disrespectful towards me, I won’t be disrespectful towards him.”
A protester called the police, and Rettke was arrested and charged with civil rights intimidation.
According to Tennessee Criminal Law Resources, “civil rights intimidation” in Tennessee occurs when a person intimidates or attempts to intimidate others from exercising their civil rights. Specifically, the law states that the accused has to injure, threaten to injure, or coerce another person.
In a statement, ETSU President Brian Noland thanked the BLM protesters for keeping their cool in the face of an obvious attempt to provoke a reaction.
“We are exceptionally proud of the students who were peacefully participating in the event and the manner in which they exercised restraint, thoughtfulness and strength in the face of inappropriate and offensive behavior.”
The East Tennessee incident was just the latest in a series of ugly racial incidents on college and university campuses across the country this fall. Racial tensions in this country have been high in the wake of high-profile shootings of African Americans, and some of that tension appears to have boiled over onto our institutions of higher learning.
In Michigan, for example, according to the Washington Post, several “racially offensive” posters started showing up around campus at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. One told “Euro Americans” to stop living in fear and denying their heritage. Another told white women to not date black men because, among other reasons, “your kids probably wouldn’t be smart.”
Hey y’all. This is currently what’s being passed around and posted here on campus smh pic.twitter.com/Nb2DMJov2A
— #BBUM (@THEBSU) September 26, 2016
Back in Tennessee, in addition to criminal charges, Rettke is also facing on-campus disciplinary action from ETSU officials. The office of student conduct has already begun an investigation.
Do you believe that wearing a gorilla mask to a Black Lives Matter protest is a criminal offense? Do you believe Tristan Rettke deserves to be disciplined by his university?
[Feature Image by Luis Molinero/Shutterstock]