June 29, 2019


Ideology and Facts Collide at Oberlin College (Daniel McGraw, 6/20/19, Quillette)

This is how the police report described the scene they found at the bakery minutes after the shoplifting:

On Wednesday, November 9, 2016, at approximately 4:58pm, officers responded to the area of Gibson's Bakery in reference to a report of a fight in progress. As officers were responding to the area, dispatch advised that this was involving an alleged theft complaint. Dispatch advised that Allyn Gibson, who is an employee of Gibson's Bakery, was attempting to apprehend a subject who Allyn had witnessed attempt to steal several items. As officers approached the area, Sgt. Ortiz, and Officer Feuerstein both stated they observed Allyn Gibson lying on his back with several individuals kneeling over him punching and kicking him with several other individuals in the immediate area. Officers attempted to gain control of the situation and were met several times with resistance from several different individuals. After a few minutes officers were finally able to take one female into custody and calm the incident and attempt to figure out what had taken place.

Activists on campus immediately concluded the arrest of the three students was evidence of racial profiling, which suggests an assumption that either the students were falsely accused on account of their race, or that Gibson's was happy to allow whites to shoplift but drew the line at blacks. I heard versions of these two theories during interviews I conducted with dozens of the student protesters. The day after the incident, about 200-300 students and others gathered outside the bakery. Inflamed with righteous anger, they chanted accusations of racism and distributed flyers that read:


Today we urge you to shop elsewhere in light of a particularly heinous event involving the owners of this establishment and local law enforcement.


A member of our community was assaulted by the owner of this establishment yesterday. A nineteen y/o young man was apprehended and choked by Allyn Gibson of Gibson's Food Mart & Bakery. The young man, who was accompanied by 2 friends was choked until the 2 forced Allyn to let go. After The [sic] young man was free, Allyn chased him across College St. and into Tappan Square. There, Allyn tackled him and restrained him again until the Oberlin police arrived. The 3 were racially profiled on the scene. They were arrested without being questioned, asked their names, or read their rights. 2 were released shortly after and charged with assault. The young man is being held in Lorain County Jail, charged with robbery. No bail until his arraignment this Friday 8:30 AM, 65 S. Main.

The protests occurred on Thursday, November 10 and Friday, November 11. There were no arrests for disorderly conduct by the protesters, although an Oberlin police officer at the protests described a "mob mentality" in his court testimony. The Oberlin College student Senate passed its resolution on the first night of the protests. In addition to endorsing the boycott, it read:

A Black student was chased and assaulted at Gibson's after being accused of stealing. Several other students, attempting to prevent the assaulted student from sustaining further injury, were arrested and held by the Oberlin Police Department. In the midst of all this, Gibson's employees were never detained and were given preferential treatment by police officers.

Gibson's has a history of racial profiling and discriminatory treatment of students and residents alike.

But, despite the students' claims and the vehemence of the language with which they were made, police and others testified that there had been no complaints or allegations of racism made against the family business since it opened in 1885. Not one.

Locals figured the school had this all wrong. A longtime Oberlin resident, Emily Crawford, who also worked in the school's communications department, sent an email to her bosses during the protests which was forwarded to senior members of the college's administration. It read:

I have talked to 15 townie friends who are poc (persons of color) and they are disgusted and embarrassed by the protest. In their view, the kid was breaking the law, period (even if he wasn't shoplifting, he was underage). To them this is not a race issue at all and they do not believe the Gibsons are racist. They believe the students have picked the wrong target ... I find this misdirected rage very disturbing, and it's only going to widen the gap (between) town and gown.

Later that week, a letter was sent by school President Marvin Krislov and Dean of Students, Meredith Raimondo (later named, along with the college, as co-defendant in the case) to the student body. Here is a part of what it said:

Dear Students,

This has been a difficult few days for our community, not simply because of the events at Gibson's Bakery, but because of the fears and concerns that many are feeling in response to the outcome of the presidential election. We write foremost to acknowledge the pain and sadness that many of you are experiencing. We want you to know that the administration, faculty, and staff are here to support you as we work through this moment together.

Regarding the incident at Gibson's, we are deeply troubled because we have heard from students that there is more to the story than what has been generally reported. We will commit every resource to determining the full and true narrative, including exploring whether this is a pattern and not an isolated incident. We are dedicated to a campus and community that treats all faculty, staff and students fairly and without discrimination. We expect that our community businesses and friends share the same values and commitments.

Within a week of the protests, the local police produced a report which listed the age and race of every person arrested in Gibson's for shoplifting between January 2011 and November 2016. These are the numbers: 40 arrests, 33 of which were college students; 32 were white (80 percent), six were African American (15 percent), and two were Asian (5 percent). According to the 2010 U.S. Census numbers, those figures are consistent with the town's racial composition: 73 percent white, 14.8 percent African American, and 4 percent Asian. During the trial, a black former employee and a black current employee both vehemently defended Gibson's against accusations of racism, either in the family's treatment of customers or staff.

In August 2017, the three accused students, none of whom had any priors, plead out to lesser misdemeanor charges of attempting an underage alcohol purchase, and received no time in jail and a clear record after one year of probation. All three read this statement in court: "I believe the employees of Gibson's actions were not racially motivated. They were merely trying to prevent an underage sale."

Posted by at June 29, 2019 7:27 AM