Student in gorilla mask taunts Black Lives Matter campus protesters
A student who arrived at a Black Lives Matter protest at East Tennessee State University wearing a gorilla mask and trying to give noose-wrapped bananas to protesters was arrested Wednesday afternoon and taken away by the school’s public safety officers.
The student, Tristan Rettke, was charged with civil rights intimidation, and the school has since released a statement denouncing his actions as being “against the values of our university where people come first and all are treated with dignity and respect.”
ETSU President Brian Noland said that he watched the whole thing, nearly in real time, because a student was posting video on Facebook. “I was offended, but I was also saddened,” Noland said. “The nation is not only raw, but it’s healing.”
He then went on to praise the students who were protesting, saying, “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.”
Sophomore Jaelyn Grimes, president of the school’s rugby club, was one of those handed a banana before Retke was taken away.
“Of course, it’s hard to stay calm because they’re doing it because they know they can get under your skin,” Grimes said. “You’ve just got to have thicker skin and be the bigger person and just show that ignorance is not going to override your ability to be calm. Because being calm is a lot more difficult than reacting the way they want us to react, which is in a violent stereotypical black way. But we’re not all like that.”