A white student wearing a gorilla mask and overalls was taken away by public safety officers at East Tennessee State University after trying to hand out noose-wrapped bananas to Black Lives Matter demonstrators on campus.
Tristan Rettke, a freshman at the school, was charged with civil rights intimidation by the Johnson City Police Department after the incident took place at Borchuck Plaza on campus, WCYB reported.
The university said Rettke has been placed on interim suspension as his actions ‘go against the values’ of the school ‘where people come first and all are treated with dignity and respect’.
Rettke told police he went to the Black Lives Matter event ‘in attempt to provoke the protesters’.
He was recorded on video that has been shared to social media walking around barefoot and wearing overalls and a gorilla mask.
Rettke handed out bananas from a burlap sack that had a marijuana leaf and a Confederate flag printed on it.
At one point in the video, he sat on the ground to tie a noose around a few bananas before trying to hand them out to event attendees at the peaceful protest.
ETSU President Brian Noland held a press conference later in the day, addressing the incident which he watched happen in almost real time via video on a student’s Facebook page, Johnson City Press reported.
‘I was offended, but I was also saddened,’ Noland said about his personal response to Rettke’s behavior. ‘The nation is not only raw, but it’s healing.’
The university president praised the Black Lives Matter demonstrators for their peaceful event and for not reacting to Rettke’s behavior.
‘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.
Sophomore Jaelyn Grimes, who is president of the school’s rugby club, attended the event and carried a sign that read, ‘Black Lives Matter (is not equal to) All Lives Don’t.’
Grimes said that Rettke tried to hand him one of the bananas, before being taken away by public safety officers moments later.
‘Of course, it’s hard to stay calm because they’re doing it because they know they can get under you 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.’