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Law & the Courts

Oberlin and the Bakery

Exactly a year ago today, Michelle Malkin wrote a piece for the home page describing how a small business, Gibson’s Bakery, had fallen foul of Oberlin’s (yes, Oberlin again) for allegedly racist behavior.

The dispute rumbles on.


Students at Oberlin College have long enjoyed pastries, bagels and chocolates from Gibson’s Bakery, a century-old, family-owned business near campus. That sweet relationship has turned bitter amid hotly disputed accusations of racism, roiling a school and town long known for their liberal politics.

The dispute, which began in November 2016 with the arrest of three black Oberlin students who were accused of stealing wine from Gibson’s, is now a lawsuit in which the exasperated bakery owners accuse the college and a top dean of slandering Gibson’s as a “racist establishment” and taking steps to destroy the family’s livelihood….

A member of the Black Student Union at Oberlin College told CBS affiliate WOIO-TV last month that other students have accused the bakery of racial profiling.

“Multiple students have had accounts of being followed around the store, being accused of stealing, having to turn their pockets out when they weren’t stealing anything just because they were black or brown students,” the student, who didn’t give a name, said. 

The three students were arrested after punching and kicking the white shopkeeper. The 18- and 19-year-old students said that they were racially profiled and that their only crime was trying to buy alcohol with fake identification; the shopkeeper, Allyn Gibson, said the students attacked him after he caught them trying to steal bottles of wine….

The three students arrested at Gibson’s pleaded guilty in August to attempted theft and aggravated trespassing and said in statements required by a plea agreement that their actions were wrong and that the store wasn’t racist. Even so, students continue to boycott Gibson’s over perceived racial profiling, causing business to suffer. Pressed by a reporter to provide evidence or examples of profiling, they said only that when black students enter the store, they feel as though they’re being watched.

“Racism can’t always be proven on an Excel sheet,” said Kameron Dunbar, an Oberlin junior and vice chair of the student senate. Copeland [a retired Oberlin professor] and other residents say the accusations of racism are unfounded.

“I’ve never seen evidence; it’s always hearsay,” Copeland said. “When your fellow student is shutting down a conversation because he or she is made uncomfortable, it leads to a hive mentality.”

Indeed it does. And, to paraphrase Christopher Hitchens, being “uncomfortable” is not an argument. The objective ought generally to trump the subjective.

And, it is alleged that, as so often in these sort of controversies, the student protestors enjoyed the explicit or implicit support of some members of the college’s staff, either (I imagine) through conviction or cowardice. If the allegation turns out to be true and the motivation is the latter, it won’t buy any favors the next time that the inquisitors find themselves short of a heretic or two. 


On Nov. 7, the Gibsons sued Oberlin and Meredith Raimondo, vice president and dean of students, for slander, accusing faculty members of encouraging demonstrations against the bakery by suspending classes, distributing flyers, and supplying protesters with free food and drink.

It says Raimondo took part in the demonstration against Gibson’s with a bullhorn and distributed a flyer that said the bakery is a “RACIST establishment with a LONG ACCOUNT of RACIAL PROFILING and DISCRIMINATION.”

Because block capitals always make an argument so convincing.

CBS (my emphasis  added)

Today, the lawsuit says, college tour guides continue to inform prospective students that Gibson’s is racist.

Dave Gibson, the bakery’s owner, says the lawsuit is about standing up for his right to crack down on shoplifting without being branded as a racist. The suit says Oberlin demanded that he stop pushing criminal charges on first-time shoplifters and call school deans instead.

“I have not taken a paycheck since this happened more than a year ago,” Gibson said in an email. “Sometimes you have to stand up to a large institution. Powerful institutions — including Oberlin College — and their members must follow the same laws as the rest of us.”

The Gibsons’ lawsuit can be read here.  It’s worth reading, not least for some of the back-story.

Oberlin has pushed back.

The Chronicle (my emphasis added):

Oberlin College has filed a motion to dismiss a lawsuit against the institution from Gibson’s Bakery, which is asking for more than $200,000 in damages stemming from a November 2016 incident in which a student attempted to steal wine from the shop and a community uproar followed….

According to the college’s version of events as described in the Dec. 6 motion, three students, who are black, went to Gibson’s Bakery and one of the students, Jonathan Aladin, attempted to purchase wine with a fake ID. Allyn Gibson, who is white, followed the students out of the store and across the street into Tappan Square, property owned by the college, and “violently assaulted the male student,” the motion states. The motion says that the two female students… intervened on behalf of Aladin when Gibson refused to stop the assault.

“When police arrived on the scene, they arrested only the three Oberlin College students despite witness statements that Allyn D. Gibson was the aggressor,” the motion states.

The motion does not include information from the police report of the incident that accused Aladin of attempting to conceal two bottles of wine under his shirt while trying to purchase a third with the fake ID. According to the police report, when officers arrived, Allyn Gibson was on the ground with the three students standing over and punching him….

Following the incident, protesters gathered in front of Gibson’s Bakery to  [Oberlin argues] “peacefully exercise their constitutional rights.” The college also canceled a standing order it had with Gibson’s, which it later reinstated, but then canceled again when Gibson’s filed the lawsuit.

During the protests, Gibson’s claims Raimondo assisted and joined in with the protests. The college said these claims are “demonstrably false” and that Raimondo acted within her authority to temporarily suspend daily bakery orders from Gibson’s

The police incident report can be read here.

Legal Insurrection:

Oberlin College Vice President and Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo provided this statement to Legal Insurrection in response to the news report that she was passing out literature accusing Gibson’s of racism:

Information and literature available at the protest was prepared by organizers, not the college. I passed along a flyer that was circulating among the crowd to a news tribune reporter who was seeking information from students about what was taking place. I did not prepare the flyer and do not have a copy of the flyer. My presence was to help ensure that a safe environment was maintained.

This will be an interesting case to watch. I should add, I suppose, that, whatever its reason, Oberlin (like any other customer) is fully entitled to cancel its standing order with Gibson’s should it so choose. 


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