FILE 2017: pedestrians pass the window of the Gibson’s Food Mart & Bakery in Oberlin, Ohio.
Students at Oberlin College have long enjoyed sandwiches, bagels, and the chocolate of Gibson’s Bakery, a century-old family business near the campus.
That sweet relationship has turned bitter in the midst of hotly contested allegations of racism, swirling a school and the city long known for their liberal politics.
The dispute, which began in November 2016, with the arrest of three black Oberlin students who attempted the stealing of the wine of Gibson’s, is now a lawsuit in which the exasperated bakery owners accusing the college and a top dean of slandering Gibson’s as a “racist institution” and taking steps to destroy the family livelihood.
The three students arrested at Gibson’s pleaded guilty in August to attempted theft and aggravated trespassing and said in the statements that are required for a plea agreement that their actions were wrong and that the shop was not racist.
Even so, students continue with the boycott of Gibson’s alleged racial profiling, causing business to suffer. Pressed by a journalist to prove or examples of profiling, they just said that if black students the store, they have the feeling that they are being watched.
The collision has inspired Oberlin senior Jake Berstein, who said that he was a witness to the first altercation, for the production of a podcast tries to make a call that is “not” between the two parties.
“Gibson’s has everything to be what is wrong with America,” Berstein said. “It is a classic case of that political bubbles which do not communicate with each other and don’t want to.”
Caught in the middle are old residents of this town of 8,300 people, many of whom identify themselves as liberals, but who have visited Gibson’s for decades.
Many believe that the timing was for the conflict on the boil; the arrests came the day after Donald Trump won the presidential election, exciting students who have long heard suspicions of racial profiling at Gibson’s.
“I can understand why people were looking for an outlet for their frustrations, but it is counter-productive to redirect that anger in the direction of a small family business that my knowledge is not guilty of the sort of racial profiling that people accuse it of,” said the retired Oberlin professor Roger Copeland.
The three students were arrested after the punching and the kicking of 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 false identification; the shopkeeper, Allyn Gibson, said the students attacked him after he caught them trying to steal bottles of wine.
The day after the arrests, hundreds of students protested outside the bakery. The members of Oberlin’s student senate published a resolution says Gibson’s “a history of racial profiling and discriminatory treatment.”
There are protests in favor of the baker. In November, patrons held a rally outside the store in a show of support.
“We think that it is important to respect the law. That is very important for us,” Kirsten Penton Hill, a local entrepreneur, told The Chronicle newspaper in November. She said that she is a member of a Completely Engaged with the Americans, and the group supports a free market. She spoke out against what she sees as the college tries to bully a small company.
Some colleges convert the “liberal” in “liberal arts” more than Oberlin, in the early 1800s was the first in the country to regularly women and minorities. But also, more recently, has become, for conservatives, a symbol of political correctness gone wrong and right youth.
News, articles 2015 quoted students adopted the school dining hall, sushi, and Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches cultural appropriation. The divisions, voice-of-a-generation actress Lena Dunham, a famous 2008 Oberlin alumna, was quoted in Food & Wine magazine as saying: “The press reported as, ‘How crazy are Oberlin kids?” But for me it was actually ‘Right on.'”
With Oberlin the reputation of the previous and the news of Gibson’s protests are spreading online, cyclists and out-of-town counter-protesters soon came to the city to spot students and donuts buy of Gibson’s. Conservatives mocked the students on social media as spoiled “snowflakes” with a mob-mentality, while the students attacked the shop as a symbol of systemic racism.
“Racism can not always be proven in a Excel-sheet,” said Kameron Dunbar, an Oberlin junior and vice-president of the student senate.
Copeland and other residents say that the accusations of racism are unfounded.
“I’ve never seen evidence; it is always heard to say,” Copeland said. “When your fellow-student is the conclusion of a conversation, because he or she is made uncomfortable, it leads to a hive mentality.”
On Nov. 7, the Gibsons sued Oberlin and Meredith Raimondo, vice-president and dean of students, for slander, accusing faculty members of the promotion of the demonstrations against the bakery by the suspension of classes, distributing flyers and providing protesters with free food and drink.
It says Raimondo took part in the demonstration against Gibson’s with a megaphone and distributed a flyer that said that the bakery is a “RACIST hotel with a LONG ACCOUNT of RACIAL PROFILING and DISCRIMINATION.”
Today, the lawsuit says, college tour guides continue to inform prospective students that Gibson’s is racist.
Dave Gibson, the owner of the bakery, says the lawsuit is about standing up for his right to crack down on shoplifting without being branded as racist. The suit says Oberlin demanded that he stop pushing criminal prosecution on the first shoplifters and call school deans.
“I have not taken a salary since this happened more than a year ago,” Gibson said in an e-mail. “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.”
Gibson’s loses thousands of dollars in theft, the lawsuit said. It rejects all accusations of racial bias, pointing to the police figures in the last five years that show that only six of the 40 adults were arrested for shoplifting at the bakery were black.
The school said in a statement after the lawsuit was filed, that They will deny Gibson’s claims and that the college has stopped buying the bakery goods, ending what had been a decades-long relationship. Raimondo did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment.
Attempts by the Oberlin Business nership to mediate between the school and the bakery is a failure, said partnership Director Janet Haar, with neither party seems to be interested.
The Associated Press contributed to this report