Tristan Rettke from East Tennessee State University was arrested Wednesday after showing up to a Black Lives Matter protest wearing a gorilla mask. He was also carrying rope and a burlap sack with a Confederate flag on it while trying to hand out bananas to protesters.
Campus police arrested the freshman on a charge of civil rights intimidation following the incident, the Johnson City Press reported. After he was taken into custody, the university condemned him for his actions and scheduled a community discussion. Rettke was also placed on interim suspension.
“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,” ETSU officials said in 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.”
A student published a video of the incident on Facebook yesterday afternoon.“I’m just the gorilla,” Rettke can be heard saying in the recording. “I identify as the gorilla. I’m just supporting my people.”
The video currently has over 940k views and a ton of enraged commenter announcing their disgust for Rettke’s ignorance and admiring the poster for keeping his cool.
“Every race has its fair share of idiots! I’m sorry for this dude, my brothers and sisters! Stay strong! Love isn’t always easy but always worth it!” one commenter wrote.
“He felt so safe behind the mask and now that he has to answer questions and speak is truth uncovered, now he’s scared and compliant, SMH,” another added.
“I am so thrilled that the cops interfered and told him how it was. And congrats on keeping your cool to all the activist out there. It was making my blood boil just watching him.” another wrote.
A police officer eventually escorted Rettje to a bench where he was asked to remove his mask. He reportedly found out about the peaceful protest on Yik Yak and came looking “to provoke protesters,” according to police.
“He was just trying to get a reaction out of us,” sophomore Jaelyn Grimes told the student newspaper, the East Tennessean. “If we would have lashed out violently, that would have been another problem, and we would’ve all got in trouble.”
The protest was organized in response to the recent police shootings in Tulsa, Oklahoma and Charlotte, North Carolina, and was planned to go on for three consecutive days.