Category Archives: racial relations

Gorilla mask regrets

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (AP) — An East Tennessee State University student who disrupted an on-campus Black Lives Matter rally while wearing a gorilla mask and carrying around a rope and bananas regrets his actions and was not trying to intimidate anyone, his attorney said.

Freshman Tristan Rettke, 18, appeared in court for the first time Thursday after being charged with one felony count of civil rights intimidation, news outlets reported. A conviction on that charge carries two to four years in prison.

Attorney Patrick Denton said in a statement Thursday that Rettke was exercising his freedom of speech and did not intimidate anyone.

“Mr. Rettke deeply regrets the unfortunate events leading up to his arrest yesterday and understands the negative perception of his speech and actions,” Denton said. “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.”

Rettke told investigators that he heard about Wednesday’s rally on social media and then purchased the attire and items in order to provoke the activists, police said.

The freshman arrived at the event masked, barefoot, wearing overalls and toting bananas and rope. He also carried a burlap sack that had a Confederate battle flag and marijuana leaf on it. He was taken away by university public safety officers.

Rettke is free on a $10,000 bond while his case is pending. University officials have condemned his actions and placed him on interim suspension.

ETSU student in gorilla mask disrupts Black Lives Matter protest

A barefoot man wearing overalls and a gorilla mask, trying to hand out noose-wrapped bananas to Black Lives Matter demonstrators, was taken into custody by East Tennessee State University public safety officers Wednesday, reports the Johnson City Press.

According to a news release from the public safety office, freshman Tristan Rettke was charged with civil rights intimidation. Saying Rettke’s actions “go against the values of our university where people come first and all are treated with dignity and respect,” the university said the student has been placed on interim suspension. Criminal charges were pending before the local district attorney, and an internal student-conduct investigation was underway.

ETSU President Brian Noland held a press conference in the afternoon to speak out against what he saw Wednesday. And Noland did watch, almost in real time as it happened, via a video on a student’s Facebook page.

“I was offended, but I was also saddened,” Noland said about his personal response to Rettke’s behavior. “The nation is not only raw, but it’s healing.”

Noland praised the Black Lives Matter demonstrators for their peaceful rally and handling of the disruption.

…Rettke also carried with him a burlap sack that had a Confederate battle flag and marijuana leaf on it. He told officers he bought the attire and items to provoke the Black Lives Matter protesters after having learned about it on social media site Yik Yak.

UT won’t penalize professor for tweet that ‘offended many’

The University of Tennessee College of Law Dean Melanie D. Wilson said Tuesday that no disciplinary action will be taken against Glen Reynolds, one of its law professors and a contributing columnist for USA TODAY and the News Sentinel for a tweet urging motorists to run over demonstrators blocking traffic in Charlotte, N.C.

Further from the News Sentinel:

“The tweet was an exercise of his First Amendment rights,” Wilson wrote in a post on the law school’s website.

“Nevertheless, the tweet offended many members of our community and beyond, and I understand the hurt and frustration they feel.”

The law school had begun an investigation after a Glenn Reynolds’ tweet.

Twitter briefly suspended Reynolds’ account after he responded to a tweet from a TV news station Wednesday night in Charlotte that showed protesters — angered by the police shooting of a black man — on Interstate 277.

“Run them down,” he wrote.

Reynolds, the creator of the Instapundit blog, tweets from the handle @Instapundit.

Wilson wrote that the law school’s investigation included “an examination of the facts, policies in the university’s Faculty Handbook, and the law.”

She said she also talked to Reynolds, university leadership and the general counsel as well as students, staff, faculty, Alumni Council and Dean’s Circle.

“In short, no disciplinary action will be taken against Professor Reynolds,” she wrote.

Glenn Reynolds column suspended over tweet

From the News Sentinel
The University of Tennessee is investigating a tweet by one of its law professors after the faculty member and contributing columnist for USA TODAY and the News Sentinel urged motorists to run over demonstrators blocking traffic in Charlotte, N.C.

The USA TODAY editorial page editor, meanwhile, said Glenn Reynolds had violated the newspaper’s standards and Reynold’s twice-a-week column would be suspended for a month.

“I didn’t live up to my own standards, and I didn’t meet USA TODAY’s standards,” Reynolds said in a statement on the USA TODAY website. “For that I apologize, to USA TODAY readers and to my followers on social media.”

Twitter briefly suspended Reynolds’ account after he responded to a tweet from a TV news station in Charlotte that showed protesters on Interstate 277. “Run them down,” he wrote.

Reynolds, the creator of the Instapundit blog, tweets from the handle @Instapundit.

He posted to Twitter shortly after 10 a.m. Thursday that his account had been unblocked after he agreed to delete the offending tweet.

Legislators see racial profiling at Graceland

Two state legislators say it appears racial profiling was involved when police decided who could – and who could not – walk down Elvis Presley Boulevard, a public street, during a “Candle Light Vigil” that drew some protesters.

From the Commercial Appeal:

Several of the protesters who were nominally affiliated with local Black Lives Matter causes attempted to walk toward Graceland on the closed-off but still-public street, but were prevented from doing so by police officers manning the barricades. Three were arrested.

While the permit issued shows that Elvis Presley Enterprises was granted permission to close a portion of the street that runs in front of Graceland, it says nothing about preventing access to the public.

City Chief Legal Officer Bruce McMullen first said that Graceland’s permit didn’t give it the authority to close any public spaces to the public, unlike the permit Memphis in May has to close Tom Lee Park.

Later, though, McMullen clarified his opinion to say that the permit-holder “can ask the police to remove anyone from the permitted area.” He did not specify where that opinion originated.

…At a Tuesday afternoon press conference, state Rep. G.A. Hardaway and state Sen. Lee Harris asked city officials to address what they said sounds like racial profiling.

“If that street is blocked off and a crowd is allowed to enter — an Elvis Presley crowd that may be humming Elvis Presley tunes — then another crowd that is chanting “black lives matter” must also enter. Doesn’t matter what their race is,” Harris said at the press conference. “We can’t have members of the public thinking that chanting ‘black lives matter’ is different or more heavily regulated than singing an Elvis hymn. It is not.”

To illustrate their point, the legislators introduced two women who attended the protest: Elaine Blanchard, who is white, and Pearl Walker, who is black.

“These two ladies, here for the same reason, but they were treated differently because of race,” Hardaway said.

Haslam on Black Lives Matter: ‘A really hard conversation’

Excerpt from a WKRN-TV report:

“People have asked me before, ‘Well, is Black Lives Matter a legitimate saying or do all lives matter?’, and my first is all life matters. All life is precious and, in my view, created in the image of God,” Haslam began.

“That being said, we have a history in our country where African Americans can legitimately feel like there’s some circumstances we live with that other people haven’t had to live with. That’s a legitimate complaint, and so we’re not going to solve it overnight, but I do think we have to start having a really hard conversation,” he continued.

Haslam says the country has a lot of to do when it comes to the racial divide.

Haslam said also thinks the police chiefs in both Nashville and Memphis, where there have been situations that could have gotten out of control, are doing a good job handling them.

On the same subject from WPLN:

The Republican governor adds that he’s rooting for President Obama. Haslam hopes his speech to mourners succeeds in advancing the national dialogue around police shootings.

“He’s uniquely qualified to do something to a country that’s troubled,” the governor told reporters shortly before Obama’s speech (in Dallas Tuesday on the slayings of police officers there).

… “The encouraging thing to me is you’re seeing law enforcement officers doing that (having conversations on race). You’re seeing churches doing that. You’re seeing those conversations happen.”

Haslam says he’s asked deputy to the governor Jim Henry and Tennessee Bureau of Investigation director Mark Gwyn to meet with leaders in the African-American community to discuss policing.

Bristol shooting motivated by anger over police shootings

BRISTOL, Tenn. (AP) — Friends and family of a black Army veteran accused of shooting at passing cars and police on a Tennessee highway are struggling to accept that he became violent in response to police killings of African-Americans.

One woman died and three others were wounded, including an officer, as police traded gunfire early Thursday with the suspect, identified as Lakeem Keon Scott, 37.

“I will never believe that, never,” said his neighbor, Alan Lavasser, who is white. “Because he was always nice to me and my wife and everyone around here. No way I would ever believe that it was racially motivated.”

Scott — allegedly armed with an assault rifle, a pistol and a large amount of ammunition — was wounded in the shootout and remains hospitalized in serious but stable condition.

In preliminary conversations on Friday, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said he cited anger over the police killings of black men. Continue reading

‘Make America White’ candidate revels in criticism of billboard

Tennessee politicians have lambasted a billboard declaring “Make America White Again” while Rick Tyler, the independent congressional candidate who paid for it, says that’s just what he wanted. So reports the Times-Free Press.

(T)he 58-year-old Ocoee, Tenn., restaurateur reveled in the controversy his two billboards elicited.

While both signs — the second featuring a picture of the White House festooned with Confederate flags — were taken down by the billboards’ owners Wednesday, Tyler said on his campaign website that “be assured, the response that has been engendered by the billboard is precisely what was expected and hoped for.

“You see this is not a mere publicity stunt, but rather a calculated maneuver to dispense hardcore truth while simultaneously doing an end run around the iron curtain of censorship,” the site reads.

Tyler added that his “Make America White Again” billboard was indeed a takeoff on GOP presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again.”

In a Times Free Press interview Wednesday, Tyler, principal owner of the Whitewater Grill in Ocoee, described himself as an “insurgent candidate” in the 3rd Congressional District race. Tyler said he wants to ban non-whites from emigrating legally or illegally to the U.S., deport undocumented immigrants already here and end government-support programs he says encourage non-whites to have children at taxpayer expense.

While Tyler says he is on a mission to save America and return the country to its past, Tennessee House Minority Leader Joe Towns, D-Memphis, wasn’t buying any of it, calling Tyler a “con and a psychopath.”

“He doesn’t need to lead a pack of dogs,” Towns, who is black, said of Tyler.

News release from Tennessee Republican Party
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – June 22, 2016 — Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Ryan Haynes released the following statement regarding Independent Congressional Candidate Rick Tyler’s offensive billboards in Polk County, Tennessee:

“There’s no room for this type of hateful display in our political discourse. Racism should be rejected in all its heinous forms in the Third Congressional District and around the country.”

TN campaign sign: ‘Make America White Again’

BENTON, Tenn. (AP) — An independent candidate for Congress has posted a campaign sign in Tennessee that says “Make America White Again.”

Rick Tyler, who is running as an independent for the seat, says he put the sign up along U.S. Highway 411 near Benton. He told WRCB-TV ( that he doesn’t hate “people of color,” but wants to return to an earlier time “when there were no break-ins; no violent crime; no mass immigration.”

He also posted a sign with an image of the White House surrounded by Confederate flags.

Tyler is one of three independent candidates running for the seat now held by Chuck Fleischmann, a Republican, who faces both Republican and Democratic contenders.

The primary election is Aug. 4. (Note: Though Tyler, as an independent, won’t be on the ballot until November.)

After dispute, Memphis massacre marker now in place

By Adrian Sainz, Associated Press
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The simple marker tells the story of one of the darkest episodes in this city’s history, the three-day run of violence known as the Memphis massacre.

“On May 1, 2 and 3, 1866, mobs of white men led by law enforcement attacked black people,” reads the placard, placed during a ceremony this month in a tree-lined park just steps from where the violence started. “By the end of the attack, the mobs had killed an estimated 46 black people; raped several black women; and committed numerous robberies, assaults and arsons.”

The marker represents a significant step for a city and state that haven’t been eager to come to terms with their history of race relations, but it went up amid disagreement with state officials over whether what happened was a race riot or simply the wholesale slaughter of innocent people.

The city’s four black churches and 12 black schools — along with dozens of other buildings — were burned in the massacre, according to a congressional committee that took testimony in the days after the event from about 170 witnesses, many of them black victims.

Historians say that while no one was prosecuted, the massacre caused the nation to reconsider Reconstruction policies and helped lead to the passage of the 14th Amendment, which granted citizenship to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States,” including freed slaves.

The marker was erected at Army-Navy Park on May 1 by the National Park Service and the NAACP, which sidestepped sponsorship by the Tennessee Historical Commission over the wording dispute. Continue reading