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Lawsuit Alleges Oberlin Faculty Slandered Baker as Racist for Pressing Charges Against Thieves

AP Photo/Dake Kang
AP Photo/Dake Kang

An Ohio bakery is suing Oberlin College for slander after administrators allegedly told students to boycott the store.

The current dispute arose out of a November 2016 incident in which a shopkeeper at Gibson’s Bakery was allegedly assaulted by three black students that he believed were trying to steal bottles of wine. The three students were arrested after “punching and kicking the white shopkeeper,” according to an Associated Press report.

In November, the Gibsons sued Oberlin College and Meredith Raimondo, vice president and dean of students, for slander, accusing faculty and administrators of encouraging demonstrations against the bakery by “suspending classes, distributing flyers, and supplying protesters with free food and drink.” The day after the incident, the bakery faced large demonstrations outside of the shop by Oberlin student groups.

Shortly after the demonstration, the Oberlin student government passed a resolution that claimed that Gibson Bakery’s shopkeeper, Allyn Gibson, had a “history of racial profiling and discriminatory treatment.”

According to the Associated Press, however, “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.”

Retired Oberlin Professor Roger Copeland also disagrees, telling the Associated Press that the shop is a small family business that is “not guilty of the sort of racial profiling that people accuse it of.”

“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 said.

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

Gibson’s attorney, Owen J. Rarric, wrote in a statement that Oberlin has continuously attempted to “bully and financially strangle a century-old local business for refusing to succumb to the College’s demand that Gibson’s ignore student shoplifting.”

The lawsuit also alleges that Oberlin terminated a decades-long practice of purchasing the bakery’s goods for campus functions as a result of the shoplifting incident. Allegedly, Oberlin told Gibson that they would only resume their purchases if Gibson agreed not to pursue criminal charges against the shoplifters.

“I have not taken a paycheck since this happened more than a year ago,” Gibson said in a comment to the Associated Press. “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 is notorious for its emphasis on social justice and political correctness. The Associated Press wrote that Oberlin serves as “a symbol of political correctness gone awry and entitled youth” to political conservatives.

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