Lawsuit accuses Oberlin of slandering local bakery as racist
The owners of an Ohio bakery are accusing Oberlin College and its dean of slander, saying administrators called the store a “racist establishment” and took steps to destroy their livelihood.
According to the Associated Press, the dispute began in November 2016, when a shopkeeper at Gibson’s Bakery was assaulted by three black men he believed were attempting to steal wine, although the young men later claimed they were attempting to purchase the alcohol using fake identification.
"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 three were arrested and pleaded guilty to attempted theft and aggravated trespassing in August, admitting as part of their plea agreement that their actions were wrong and that the store had no racist intentions.
The arrests resulted in demonstrations by Black Lives Matter outside the store the following day, as reported by Legal Insurrection, and the Oberlin Student Senate passed a resolution claiming the shopkeeper, Allyn Gibson, had "a history of racial profiling and discriminatory treatment.”
Consequently, the store suffered financially, but when asked to give evidence of Gibson’s alleged racist actions, students were unable to give hard facts.
"Racism can't always be proven on an Excel sheet," remarked Kameron Dunbar, an Oberlin junior and vice chair of the Student Senate.
Others disagreed, however, including retired Oberlin professor Roger Copeland, who claimed he’s “never seen evidence” of racial profiling, pointing out that “it's always hearsay.”
"I can understand why people were looking for some outlet for their frustration, but it's just counterproductive to bend that anger towards a small family business that to my knowledge is not guilty of the sort of racial profiling that people accuse it of," Copeland elaborated.
Notably, bakery owner David Gibson has since filed a lawsuit against the school and Meredith Raimondo, vice president and dean of students, for slander, claiming that faculty members encouraged students to participate in demonstrations against the store, and even provided supplies for the protests while suspending classes.
According to the lawsuit, Oberlin not only paid for the defense attorney of one of the men involved in the case, but even hired a limo to shuttle him to a meeting with a “high profile criminal defense lawyer.”
Additionally, the lawsuit accuses Raimondo of participating in the demonstration herself, and handing out flyers that accused the bakery of being a “racist establishment with a long account of racial profiling and discrimination."
The lawsuit further alleges that Oberlin ended its decades-long practice of purchasing the bakery’s goods in the wake of the controversy, and that administrators subsequently offered to restore business relations only if Gibson’s agreed not to pursue criminal charges against “first-time shoplifters,” and to instead notify the school.
Gibson’s rejected the proposal, citing the difficulty of knowing whether a given offender is a first-time shoplifter and noting that the store loses thousands of dollars every year to stolen merchandise.
David Gibson also disputed the accusations that his employees racially profile customers, pointing to police data showing that only six of the 40 people arrested at the store for shoplifting in the past five years were black.
"I have not taken a paycheck since this happened more than a year ago," Gibson told the AP. "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."
Oberlin, for its part, released a statement to the AP denying the accusations made in Gibson’s lawsuit.
Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @KylePerisic