Student arrested for wearing gorilla mask to Black Lives Matter rally cleared of most charges

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Leroy N. Soetoro

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Jul 20, 2019, 12:50:32 PM7/20/19
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https://www.nbcnews.com/news/nbcblk/student-arrested-wearing-gorilla-mask-
black-lives-matter-rally-cleared-n1030961?cid=referral_taboolafeed

Tristan Rettke was charged with civil rights intimidation after attending
the protest barefoot, in overalls, wearing a gorilla mask and dangling
bananas.

A former East Tennessee State University student who police said disrupted
an on-campus Black Lives Matter rally while wearing a gorilla mask and
dangling bananas on ropes was cleared of most charges Wednesday.

A jury found Tristan Rettke guilty of one misdemeanor count of disrupting
a meeting, and not guilty of two counts each of civil rights intimidation
and disorderly conduct, according to NBC affiliate WCYB. The Washington
County Court jury in Jonesborough recommended a $500 fine.

Police said Rettke came to the Sept. 28, 2016 protest barefoot, dressed in
overalls, wearing a gorilla mask and dangling bananas tied with rope.

Witnesses who had been participants in the rally testified that Rettke
used racial slurs, intimidated them and made them fearful, according to
the station.

Asked by an assistant district attorney how the gorilla mask and strung-up
bananas had made them feel, people from the rally said on the stand that
the incident evoked thoughts and feelings of racism and slavery, WCYB
reported.

The area where the rally took place has a fountain dedicated to the first
African American students to attend the university and is considered a
“free speech zone,” where students can openly express their beliefs and
opinions about an issue, according to the Johnson City Press.

Rettke's attorney, Patrick Denton, argued his client was exercising his
freedom of speech and did not intimidate anyone. Denton said his client
was counter-protesting the Black Lives Matter rally.

"What is he? He's a heckler," Denton said Tuesday. "He's a heckler for
that protest and, as much as (the assistant district attorney) doesn't
want to acknowledge, that's speech. It obviously is. We all understand
that."

Denton could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.

Video from the day of the incident showed Rettke attempting to distribute
the bananas from a burlap sack to demonstrators. The sack was emblazoned
with a marijuana leaf and a Confederate flag. He also held up a sign that
said "Lives Matter."

He was escorted from the protest by public safety officers and was later
criminally charged by the Johnson City Police Department


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