JOHNSON CITY, TN (WJHL) – A peaceful protest on East Tennessee State University’s campus Wednesday afternoon was disrupted when a man wearing a gorilla mask showed up and started handing out bananas to students holding Black Lives Matter signs.
According to ETSU spokesman Joe Smith, students were on campus holding a peaceful demonstration when the man approached them and started handing out bananas.
Video submitted by Timia Easley Junior
ETSU’s campus newspaper, the East Tennessean, was at the demonstration and captured photos of the man in the mask approaching the students, as well as being escorted away by campus police.
“We feel disrespected and that I was below him, but I had to use that and put it back in my head and just come back out with a calm, peaceful, positive outlook,” Jaylen Grimes, an ETSU at the protest said. “Because if I had reacted any other way, that’s exactly what he was looking for.”
Jeremiah Pearson, an ETSU student and Black Affairs Association vice president, said he was in class when someone told him there was a disturbance at the protest. Peason said he went to the plaza and saw a man in overalls with no shoes, a Confederate flag, a monkey mask and a rope, handing out bananas.
“I was really … distraught, confused on why this was happening at a peaceful protest,” Pearson said. “We weren’t being rude to anybody. We were being respectful, trying to handle this in a calmly manner and I’m just so proud of everyone in this protest today and how they kept their calm and did not react.”
“Seeing somebody blatantly disrespect people in that manner … I’ve never had someone to my face be disrespectful like that, so it was just new to me,” ETSU student Trevor King said. “It was hard for me to keep my calm, but everybody and the support that’s what kept me calm.”