The same article quoted a black employee of the store who dismissed racism as a motive. “If you’re caught shoplifting, you’re going to end up getting arrested,” he said. “When you steal from the store, it doesn’t matter what color you are. You can be purple, blue, green; if you steal, you get caught, you get arrested.”
It is easy to understand why some college students would reflexively side with their peers, especially early on, as conflicting eyewitness accounts spread by hearsay across the small campus. The student government passed a resolution calling for the university to “cease all support, financial and otherwise,” of the bakery, which had a long-standing contract with Oberlin’s food-services vendor.
Later, when the male student was charged with felony robbery rather than shoplifting, even as his fake ID suggested at the very least that his initial intent had been to make a purchase, many at Oberlin perceived a miscarriage of justice and wondered whether race had played a role in the charging decision. That, too, is easy to understand.
If this was merely a matter of hasty student protests going too far before all the facts emerged, the eight-figure lawsuit would not have been warranted.
But the jury heard a story in which adults at Oberlin chose to fuel the mob’s excesses while pandering to its false narrative.
That the narrative was suspect should have been obvious almost immediately. Administrators were present at early legal hearings where the male student offered to plead guilty to misdemeanor theft, a plea deal that David Gibson, the bakery’s owner, explicitly approved. (A judge rejected the deal, citing student protests at Oberlin and the bad precedent that could result from the perception of reducing the charges under pressure. One of the student defendants would later remark that he appreciated the support of his classmates even though it probably hurt his case.)
Daniel McGraw, who covered the trial for Legal Insurrection, reported on an email that Emily Crawford, who worked in the school’s communications department, sent to her bosses, who forwarded it to other administrators. “I have talked to 15 townie friends who are poc (persons of color) and they are disgusted and embarrassed by the protest,” she warned. “In their view, the kid was breaking the law, period … 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.”
He also reported on the response from Tita Reed, the special assistant to the president for community and government relations, who reacted to the news of local sentiment, “Doesn’t change a damn thing for me.”
The Gibson family’s lawsuit, set forth in a 33-page complaint, would give locals a lot more reason for anger at Oberlin and Meredith Raimondo, the special assistant to the president for equity, diversity, and inclusion. Among its allegations were the following:
Oberlin employees were among those who distributed a boycott flyer, and they allowed it to be copied for free on school machines. It declared without evidence that the bakery was a “racist establishment with a long account of racial profiling and discrimination” and called its behavior toward the three students who broke the law there “heinous.”
Reed, Raimondo, and some Oberlin professors “raised their fists in support of the demonstration,” with some of them “shouting the defamatory statements on a bullhorn, thereby assuring that a large audience would hear their defamatory statements.”
Credit was given to students who attended the protest in lieu of classes, and administrators bought them food to support them.