The third day of Black Lives Matters protests at ETSU saw nearly 200 students, faculty, staff and community members at its peak, standing arm in arm, in support of each other.
The protest was held the day after Tristan Rettke, an ETSU freshman, confronted Black Lives Matter demonstrators in Borchuck Plaza while wearing a gorilla mask and dangling bananas in front of their faces by a rope. He also carried a small sign that said “Lives Matter.”
Rettke was charged with civil rights intimidation and has been released from jail on $10,000 bail. He has since left the university.
According to an incident report prepared by ETSU Public Safety, Rettke said that a couple days before the demonstration on Wednesday he saw a post on YikYak talking about a Black Lives Matter rally going on in Borchuck Plaza. The report said that Rettke went to the store on Tuesday and purchased a rope and a gorilla mask. The report states that Rettke said he performed the stunt in order to provoke the protestors.
“Mr. Rettke deeply regrets the unfortunate events leading up to his arrest yesterday and understands the negative perception of his speech and actions,” said Patrick Denton, Rettke’s attorney, according to the Johnson City Press. “He respects the rights of those in the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement to peacefully demonstrate in furtherance of their message in the spirit of the First Amendment.”
During the Black Lives Matter demonstration on Thursday, many students had questions about the protests and why Black Lives Matter is necessary, while others expressed a desire to do more and expressed sorrow for the black community.
Protesters were calm in explaining the All Lives Matter versus Black Lives Matter debate, which came up frequently. Their answer, Black Lives Matter too, also, showed that BLM does not negate other lives. Their explanations and reactions changed many views on the BLM movement.
ETSU President Brian Noland walked around the circle of protesters, shaking each hand as he went. He thanked each protester for being there and for how they represented the university.
Protesters and others in Borchuck Plaza, felt the need to showcase support through hugs, handshakes and words of encouragement.
“We Shall Over Come” and “Lean on Me” were sung by protesters, who locked hands and invited passerby in Borchuck Plaza to sing along.
Though the protests only lasted three days, the last one produced the highest turnout.
The theme for Thursday, “Claim Your Hashtag,” illustrated what it would be like if members of the ETSU community were the next victims of police violence.
Members of the protest also felt the need to express that being anti-police brutality, does not mean they are anti-police. The names may not be known, but attaching common faces to these senseless tragedies made an impact on the students and staff.
“It could be me,” said sophomore Leon Humphrey Jr. “People know me, call me their friend, but who would stand for me?”
Black Affairs and other student groups expressed the desire to do more, and throughout the year, more protests and discussions could be held.