By Angela Wyatt Braden
A white college student wearing overalls and a gorilla mask at a Black Lives Matter rally at East Tennessee State University has been arrested and charged with civil rights intimidation.
Witnesses say that Tristan Rettke, a freshman at ETSU, attempted to provoke hostility by mocking the demonstrators during the BLM rally. Students say that Rettke had a burlap bag filled with bananas that had nooses tied around them. Rettke was approaching the demonstrators, trying to hand out the bananas.
Finally, the harassment of the peaceful protestors was put to an end when public safety officers on the campus hauled the barefoot Rettke from the rally to a jail cell. The Johnson City Police Department charged Rettke with civil rights intimidation, which is a state crime in TN.
Brian Noland, the president of ETSU, expressed outrage and disappointment for Rettke’s actions. Noland said that their college welcomes diversity and inclusion; and disrespect of this nature will not be tolerated.
“The actions of this one individual go against the values of our university, where people come first and all are treated with dignity and respect,” said Noland.
Noland also praised the BLM demonstrators for not allowing Rettke to provoke them to committing acts of violence. He was glad that the students acted with restraint and maintained a peaceful protest.
Jaylen Grimes, one of the BLM organizers on the campus of ETSU, said that violence is not an appropriate response to racist behavior. He believes that violence is counterproductive to what they are trying to accomplish on the college campus.
“Violence is not our answer to anything,” Grimes said. “Because once you fight fire with fire, it just starts a larger fire. And where there’s more fire, there’s more destruction.”
Grimes went on to say that he was actually glad that Rettke showed his true colors at the rally. He hopes that Rettke’s heinous behavior will be a lesson to white students, who witnessed Rettke’s offensive actions.
“Once white people see how the counterpart of their same culture acts, they can just reflect on that and see, ‘Oh, I’m not like that. Oh, I actually might want to help.’ And they might want to push against what his thoughts and what his beliefs are.”
Rettke was not only arrested; he was suspended indefinitely from ETSU. Noland is planning an event to allow students and faculty to dialogue about race relations on the campus. He wants to the students to feel comfortable to discuss Rettke’s actions and how to overcome racial offenses such as this.