The Wednesday afternoon protest was small and peaceful, until it was joined by Tristan Rettke, a freshman at the school, "in an attempt to provoke the protesters,” according to the police report.
Rettke was wearing blue jean overalls, a white t-shirt and a gorilla mask, and was handing out bananas on a rope. He was also carrying a burlap sack with a rebel flag and a marijuana leaf prominently displayed. In videos taken by protesters, he does not appear to speak at all.
After Rettke’s arrival, the police were called on a report of “disorderly conduct.” He was detained and taken to the Public Safety Office.
Immediately following Rettke’s detention, ETSU President Dr. Brian Noland held a news conference about the incident, where he called Rettke’s actions “incomprehensible and intolerable” and asserted that Rettke does not represent the values of the university.
ETSU officials posted to Facebook, inviting students to meet in the auditorium later that evening to discuss the incident.
“The ETSU Department of Public Safety staff responded to the incident. At this time, criminal charges are pending before the local district attorney, and an internal student-conduct investigation has begun,” the post reads. “Our university values diversity, inclusivity and respect for others. In keeping with those values, there will be an opportunity for community dialogue tonight at 7 p.m. inside the D.P. Culp Auditorium. University leadership will be present.”
While Rettke’s actions and attire were inarguably in bad taste, there is a battle brewing about whether they are illegal. The argument appears to have split into two camps, with some calling his arrest justified by asserting that his actions can be defined as “hate speech,” and others pointing out that his actions are protected under the right to free speech. As Rettke did not threaten or assault anyone, his arrest was due to the offensive nature of his actions.