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Home » Blog » BLM Protest Disrupted by ETSU Freshman’s Attempt at Intimidation

BLM Protest Disrupted by ETSU Freshman’s Attempt at Intimidation

racist gorilla mask in front of confederate flag behind jail barsA freshman at East Tennessee State University was taken into custody on Wednesday after disrupting a Black Lives Matter protest. Eighteen-year-old Tristen Rettke showed up wearing a gorilla mask and overalls, offering protesters bananas tied to a rope. Video footage captured by attendees show Rettke standing by his rope-bananas and holding a burlap sack with a confederate flag and marijuana leaf printed on it.

For their part, the protesters did their best to ignore Rettke’s admittedly provocative behavior. The campus police arrived after a witness reported his behavior. The arresting officers read Rettke his Miranda rights and he explained his actions and motivations.

Apparently, he learned about the Black Lives Matter protest on the app Yik Yak. He noted that the protest was to be held in a “free speech” zone on ETSU’s campus and proceeded to make preparations for his terrible publicity stunt. On Tuesday, he purchased the rope, bananas, and gorilla mask. On Wednesday, he brought them all together.

Spoiler alert: Rettke gets charged with civil rights intimidation.

ETSU president Brian Noland issued the following statement after the incident took place:

“Earlier today during a student-led Black Lives Matter event at Borchuck Plaza, our campus community was outraged by the behavior of one student who confronted the participants. 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. 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.”

It’s uncertain whether or not Rettke will remain in attendance at ETSU, but a student-conduct investigation was immediately launched. One thing is clear — the ETSU community and administration does not condone racist activity on campus.

Civil Rights Intimidation in Tennessee

In the state of Tennessee, civil rights intimidation is a Class D felony. The law is violated when an offender “injures or threatens to injure or coerces another person with the intent to unlawfully intimidate another from the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secure by the constitution or laws of the state of Tennessee.”

Rettke broke this law by going into a free speech zone that was currently being used for a Black Lives Matter protest and trying to provoke the protesters with an openly racist get-up. The confederate flag on his sack. The rope. And especially the gorilla mask.

The gorilla mask also makes the situation a little worse for Rettke — Tennessee state law also makes it clear that “it is an offense for a person to wear a mask or disguise” while violating civil rights intimation laws. If Rettke’s charges come through, he’ll likely be charged with a Class A misdemeanor on top of that Class D felony.

At Turner Law Offices, P.C., our team of attorneys has years of experience working with clients across a wide range of cases involving civil rights violations. If you or a loved on has been the victim of civil rights intimidation, you certainly have grounds to press charges against the intimidator. The sooner you take action, the stronger your case, so don’t wait! Call today, or go online to set up your free initial consultation, and meet with a skilled lawyer who’s ready and waiting to guide you toward the justice you deserve.

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