East Tennessee State University student Tristan Rettke was arrested Tuesday afternoon after he was captured on camera dressed as a gorilla and handing out bananas during Black Lives Matter protest on campus.
Rettke, an 18-year-old freshman, arrived at ETSU’s Borchuck Plaza where students were demonstrating against police violence. He began taunting BLM protestors while wearing a gorilla mask and passing bananas out of a burlap sack emblazoned with the Confederate flag.
According to WCYB News 5, the ETSU freshman was charged with one count of civil rights intimidation. Shocked by what they saw, eyewitnesses, students and local media took photos of the incident as it occurred. Grant Madison, a junior at the university, live streamed the events as they occurred, and said Rettke taunted protestors for 15-20 minutes.
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Madison told USA Today that he was with a friend when Rettke walked up behind him and handed him a banana as he passed by.
“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,” says Madison. “For me, it was the first time I’ve experienced something so blatantly disrespectful and racist.”
Police reports state that after Rettke’s rights were read, he said he found out about the protest on the social platform Yik Yak. He then said that he went to a store to purchase the bananas, rope, and gorilla mask “in an attempt to provoke the protesters.”
East Tennessee State University President, Brian Noland, said he is “saddened” by the events that took place during a press conference the following day.
“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,” Noland said in a statement.