Gibson’s Boycott Denies Due Process

Roger Copeland, Emeritus Professor of Theater and Dance

To the Editors:

In the Sept. 1, 2017 issue of The Oberlin Review, the paper’s Editorial Board lists a number of actions taken last year by the Krislov administration which “[paint] a picture of an untrustworthy, austere, and aloof bureaucracy” (“Ambar Provides Opportunity for Needed Change,” The Oberlin Review, Sept. 1, 2017).

I agree with their choice of the word “untrustworthy.” But I strongly disagree with one of the reasons the editors cite for arriving at this adverse judgement. They criticize the administration’s decision to “[resume] business with Gibson’s Bakery after controversy that sparked massive student protests.”

Ironically, just a few pages earlier in the same issue of the Review, a news article reports on the legal resolution of the Gibson’s case. Readers are informed that all three defendants pled guilty to attempted theft among other charges and that all three declared, under penalty of perjury, that the actions taken by Gibson’s employees to prevent the attempted theft were “not racially motivated.” It is now abundantly clear that the College’s boycott of Gibson’s was disingenuous and utterly unwarranted.

On Nov. 11, 2016, then-Oberlin College President Marvin Krislov and Dean of Students Meredith Rai- mondo issued a public statement in which they promised to “commit every resource to determining the full and true narrative.” But what Krislov and Raimondo conveniently failed to mention is that they had already told Campus Dining Services to stop doing business with Gibson’s. For many years, the College has purchased approximately $500 worth of baked goods from Gibson’s on an almost daily basis, according to a conversation I had with Dave Gibson. For a small, family-owned business, this amounts to a staggering, potentially bankrupting loss. But Krislov and Raimondo’s rush to judgment amounted to something even more egregious: a fundamental denial of due process.

Surely, if anyone had proposed that the three defendants be suspended from classes while awaiting trial, the College would have rightfully refused, citing that foundation stone of American jurisprudence: the presumption of innocence. To deny the same presumption to the employees of Gibson’s is not only presumptuous. It’s evocative of the topsy-turvy value system in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, where the Red Queen declares, “Sentence first — verdict afterward.”

Here we come to the heart of my disagreement with last week’s editorial: the Krislov administration proved itself “untrustworthy” not because it belatedly rescinded its boycott of Gibson’s; the administration’s ethical failure was to have imposed this unjustified sanction in the first place.

In the same statement that promised to uncover the “true narrative,” Krislov and Raimondo also vowed to “[explore] whether this is a pattern and not an isolated incident.” That question was answered in a November 15, 2016 Cleveland Plain Dealer story, “Oberlin College protest at bakery over, students hope for peaceful dialogue.” There, Oberlin Police Lieutenant Michael McCloskey revealed that the Oberlin Police Department looked at arrests for shoplifting at Gibson’s for the past five years to see if there was evidence of racism. Since 2011, there were 40 adults arrested for shoplifting, and 32 were white. 33 of the 40 were college students. He then went on to add, “Gibson’s has the largest number of shoplifting cases in the city, right after Walmart.”

The facts of this case are no longer in question. And yet, a counter-narrative has taken hold, one that refuses to allow mere “facts” to get in the way. It’s embarrassing when one has to ask Oberlin students the same question one asks climate-change deniers: At what point do you accept the empirical evidence, even if that means having to embrace an “inconvenient” truth? Alas, even those who concede that the defendants violated the law, continue — stubbornly — to insist that there is “plenty of blame to go around” and that “both sides” are at fault. Really? Isn’t that what Donald Trump said about Charlottesville?

The time has come for the Dean of Students, on behalf of the College, to apologize to the Gibson family for damaging not only their livelihood but something more precious and difficult to restore — their reputation and good standing in the community.

Roger Copeland
Emeritus Professor of Theater and Dance