Community Clashes Over Gibson’s Protests
Following two days of intense student protest, nearby Ohioans and biker clubs filed into Oberlin Saturday morning to support Gibson’s Bakery. Approximately 80 leather jacket-clad bikers showed up in front of the store, upset that students declared a boycott on the longstanding family-owned grocery store in response to an alleged racial profiling incident involving Gibson’s employee Allyn Gibson and College sophomore Elijah Aladin last week.
“Hell yeah, we were upset,” said one 45-year-old biker, who goes by the name Lanesplitter. “We heard about the protests on social media, and we just wanted to support the store.”
Minutes earlier, Lanesplitter and several other bikers had painted over a rock in Tappan Square that read “Black Lives Matter” with “All Lives Matter” and “Grafton Strays,” the name of the Lorain-based biker group. Another rock further up the street was also painted with “President Trump,” which was soon changed by students to “Emperor Trump.”
Several other biker clubs showed up, including members from Hell’s Angels and the Celtic Sisters women’s biker group.
Aside from bikers, hundreds of nearby locals also came out to support the store as part an organized “Cash Mob” event made on Facebook. Participants bought food at Gibson’s during their visit, with lines snaking all the way to the back of the store.
Although locals viewed the event as supporting the store, many students and faculty were troubled by the counter-protests, which some viewed as a way to intimidate students.
Shortly after the protests began last week, an anonymous person created a Facebook page called “Gibson’s Bakery Support Page,” which targeted protest leaders, encouraged “2nd Amendment Patriots” to participate and demanded that Student Senators be expelled for a resolution they passed calling for the College to cease business with the store. The page was taken down a little over a day after its creation following numerous reports to Facebook for its content.
Since these events, students have not held any protests in front of the store. Attempts by the Review to contact protest organizers were unsuccessful, but Student Senator and College sophomore Kameron Dunbar said he believes the refrain of protests is not simply because of safety concerns.
“To say that they were scared off by counter-protestors is a misreading of the situation,” Dunbar said. “Oberlin protestors ended the protest on Friday chanting, ‘This runs deeper.’ This issue is deeper than Gibson’s, and students are working toward creating an inclusive community.”
In light of all the controversy surrounding Gibson’s, many students and faculty members are mulling over how to improve College-town relations. To that end, College sophomore Kai Joy and junior Alison Cameron have been holding canvassing training sessions, resulting in more than 60 students walking around Oberlin knocking on doors to facilitate discussion of the Gibson’s incident and hear various community members’ opinions.
“I was pretty involved in the protest, but it seemed like there was this mentality of hostility developing between townspeople and students, and I was thinking this was a good way to help these issues,” Joy said.
According to Cameron, results of the canvassing were mixed — some voiced dissent from students and others were unaware of the incident.
Although administrators have taken steps such as reaching out to the Gibson family and temporarily suspending purchases, Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo said it is important that everyone takes the time to analyze the situation and not rush to action.
“I’d really like a resolution that works for everyone — students involved in the incident, the store owner, people protesting, everyone,” Raimondo said. “It’s not about who wins and loses, but finding solutions that allow everyone to win. Any permanent decision about CDS’s order from Gibson’s would be terribly premature at this time, as I would not want to take steps that might make finding a good outcome for everyone harder.”
Supporters and employees at the store attest that no racial profiling or unfair arrests have taken place, but some students and faculty claim they have also experienced racially insensitive behavior at Gibson’s. This division has underscored much of the conflict.
Liam McMillin, a College senior who grew up in Oberlin, recalled that his Black friends did not go to the store specifically because they knew of past incidents of racial profiling involving Allyn Gibson.
“I’ve never had issues there, but I know my African-American friends in high school avoided Gibson’s for a while because they heard of similar incidents,” McMillin said.
However, many community are upset that students view Gibson’s in a negative light, as it’s the only downtown grocery store and has existed as a family-run business for over 130 years.
“Gibson’s has a long history of community involvement in Oberlin and has been integral to the town for many years,” said Trey James, Gibson’s employee and recently appointed Public Relations Representative. “The fact that there was support was not surprising at all.”
Some have talked to Allyn and David Gibson since the incident, such as Tita Reed, special assistant to the president for community and government relations, but did not comment in-detail on what they discussed.
“When I was able to have a conversation with David Gibson, he expressed concerns about the reputation of his business,” Reed said in an email to the Review.
Still, most have expressed a desire to facilitate open dialogues about these issues to find a resolution that might heal divisions between the College and city.
“I just had a good rapport with all the students,” Gibson’s employee Brent Gingery said. “I miss seeing them in here.”