Too often, a young black man will be accused of an offense by the misguided assumption that he’s more prone to crime, more prone to violence, and when this happens, it demands redress. But sometimes, the young black man did it, and the person who accused him is wrongly accused of being a racist. Welcome to Oberlin College.
A student tried to buy alcohol with a fake ID and shoplift from Allyn D. Gibson, David Gibson’s son. Allyn D. Gibson followed the student out of the store, and the two got into a physical altercation.
Two other students got involved, and police have said when they arrived the three students were hitting Allyn D. Gibson while he was on the ground.
Allyn D. Gibson is white and the students are black. The three students pleaded guilty in August 2017 to misdemeanor charges and read statements into the record acknowledging that Allyn D. Gibson was within his right to detain the shoplifter and that his actions were not racially motivated.
Shoplifting isn’t the biggest deal crime around. Nor is trying to use a fake ID. But it’s still a crime, and stealing, despite the views of some newly elected prosecutors, is still inherently wrong. Somewhere else, this scenario might have played out quietly, in the usual course of events, where the kid who stole got his hand slapped. But not at Oberlin College.
But in the two days immediately after the shoplifting incident, Oberlin College students protested in front of the bakery and passed out flyers urging people to boycott the bakery, alleging the bakery had a history of racial profiling. Oberlin College stopped ordering from the bakery after the protests but resumed in January 2017. The college once again stopped ordering from Gibson’s after the lawsuit was filed in November 2017.
Much as the “tough on crime” crowd takes a knee-jerk position that the black kid must have committed the crime, the Oberlin community did the same, but opposite. The white accuser must have been racist. Not just the students, but the professors and the dean of students as well.
The suit also said Oberlin Vice President and Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo and other college staff members “handed out hundreds of copies” of a flier to the community and the media stating that Gibson’s Bakery and its owners racially profiled and discriminated against the three students.
The court documents include a copy of the flier, which included the words “DON’T BUY.”
“This is a RACIST establishment with a LONG ACCOUNT of RACIAL PROFILING and DISCRIMINATION,” the flier read, according to the lawsuit.
The dean subsequently “explained” that she was facilitating free speech by the students. Isn’t free speech good, as the apologists for hate speech keep crying? Oberlin’s general counsel Donica Thomas Varner made the argument.
Neither Oberlin College nor Dean Meredith Raimondo defamed a local business or its owners, and they never endorsed statements made by others. Rather, the College and Dr. Raimondo worked to ensure that students’ freedom of speech was protected and that the student demonstrations were safe and lawful, and they attempted to help the plaintiffs repair any harm caused by the student’s protests.
Nothing about Varner’s argument served to ameliorate the harm done to Gibson’s Bakery or the members of the family.
In May testimony during the trial, David Gibson said the protests “devastated” the bakery’s revenue, which forced staffing cuts. The bakery went from 10 to 12 employees with six to seven of whom were full time to six to seven employees and only one working full time, David Gibson testified during the trial.
This also included several family members working without pay. David Gibson and Allyn Gibson told the court they haven’t collected pay since the protests occurred, nor have David’s wife, son and grandson. David Gibson’s brother, who lives in Canton, works 40 to 60 hours a week at the bakery without pay.
The harm was reflected in the jury’s verdict, totaling $11 million,* which may yet be trebled when the issue of punitive damages is determined.
Aren’t students and staff at Oberlin entitled to protest? Of course they are, and they should be. But that’s not remotely the question here. The college didn’t get slammed for protesting, but for defamation. Defamation is not protected speech, nor does it become protected speech because the students at Oberlin passionately believes that any accusation against a black student must be racist.
There is, of course, a perspective from which this verdict must be wrong, the Gibsons must be racist and the shoplifter must be forgiven, innocent, even if he did what he allocuted to doing. After all, aren’t all white people inherently racist? Aren’t all black people inherently oppressed? And as a member of an oppressed community, despite going to one very pricey college, isn’t the student entitled to steal things from white-owned businesses?
These may well be questions properly pondered in the confines of academia, although the hyper-racialization of criminal issues has served to skew consideration away from the more difficult issues posed by facts and circumstances into the broader philosophical questions that allow any delusion to serve as a substitute for what happened in any individual case.
But when the assumptions of critical race theory manifest on the campus of a college, destroying a legitimate business and its owners, and its owners’ family, by tarring them with blind societal assumptions as racists when the facts ultimately show them to be nothing more than the victim of the petty offense of shoplifting, it’s got nothing to do with social justice. It’s just a wrongful attack based on false assumptions. And when it comes to a campus where the lie is prone to flourish, few places are more likely than Oberlin College.
The assumption that a young black man is likely to be a criminal is racist. The assumption that any accusation of a young black man committing a crime is false is similarly racist. Sometimes, the crime happened and defaming the accuser without regard to the facts is the wrong in need of redress, even if there’s no room in your worldview for facts and the possibility that the white guy isn’t the bad guy and this time, the black kid did it.
The jury heard the facts and Oberlin didn’t merely lose, but suffered a crushing damages verdict that will strain a college in dubious financial position, impact the tuition of future students who played no role in this delusion and likely change no passionate mind on one of the most progressive campuses in America, certain that it must have been racism because that explains everything.
That’s what happened at Oberlin College.
*”The jury awarded $5.8 million for David, $3 million for Allyn and $2.2 million for the bakery, with a further determination to be made of whether to award treble punitive damages. I defer to the jury on the appropriateness of the amounts awarded.