The ETSU freshman who disturbed a Black Lives Matter rally wearing a gorilla mask and handed out bananas was cleared of most civil rights charges last Wednesday, July 17.
Tristan Rettke was arrested at a Black Lives Matter event at East Tennessee State University on Sept. 26, 2016. He faced charges of intimidation of the civil rights of the mostly black protesters.
The event took place at the Borchuck Plaza outside the campus library. The area features a fountain dedicated to the first black students admitted to the University. It’s considered a free speech zone, according to Johnson City Press.
Brook’ale Anderson was one of the BLM protesters that testified in court against Rettke. “I was so shocked it really didn’t seem real at the moment,” she said. “He tried to hand me a banana that was hanging from a noose.”
When asked the purpose for his presence, Rettke, according to Anderson, “said, he was there to support us and when asked why he had the gorilla mask on he said, ‘I’m here to support you. Don’t I look like y’all?’ And I thought wow, that’s how they see us.”
Rettke’s attorney, Patrick Denton pushed for the freedom of speech argument. He pointed out that the Borchuck Plaza, being a free speech zone, should be a freeport for Rettke to express his views.
Moreover, prosecutors had a hard time proving Rettke violated any state laws. The laws forbid injuring or threatening to injure, or coercing, another person “with the intent to unlawfully intimidate another” from exercising his legal rights, the College Fix reported.
In the end, prosecutors dropped four civil-rights related charges. Rettke was only held accountable for disrupting an organized event, a misdemeanor, for which the jury advised a penalty of $500, WJHL reported.
Student Arrested for Wearing a Gorilla Mask to Protest
The original event was reported in 2016 by The Epoch Times on Sept. 30.
A student at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City was arrested over disrupting a Black Lives Matter event on campus. He was wearing a gorilla mask, carrying a rope and trying to hand out bananas.
Media outlets report that Tristan Rettke was charged with one count of civil rights intimidation.
Witnesses took photos and video of the man walking up to demonstrators on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016. He was carrying a burlap sack that had a marijuana leaf and a Confederate battle flag printed on it. Rettke told police that he went to the event to provoke protesters.
The university statement expressed outrage at Rettke’s conduct. They commended students for exercising restraint in the face of offensive behavior.
— East Tennessean (@EastTennessean) September 28, 2016
University President Brian Noland issued a statement.
“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 stated.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.