On November 9, 2016, a black Oberlin college student named Jonathan Aladin walked into Gibson’s Food Market and Bakery and stole some wine.  One of the employees suspected him of the theft and pursued him.  This chase resulted in an altercation with Aladin, as well as two other students named Cecilia Whettstone and Endia Lawrence.  Police arrested them all.

Case closed, right?

Not quite.  Other Oberlin college students decided to protest the bakery, saying that these three were racially profiled. They handed out fliers that said the bakery was“a RACIST establishment with a LONG ACCOUNT of RACIAL PROFILING and DISCRIMINATION.” The fliers also accused the owner of “assaulting” an Oberlin student.  

In a lengthy but jaw-dropping Twitter thread, Legal Insurrection details shows one of the fliers:

But this wasn’t just an emotional, ill-advised student protest. The university itself helped promote the protest against the bakery by assisting in publishing and distributing the flyer, provided pizza for the protestors, and even sending announcements to the media. To add financial injury to insult, the college suspended all business with Gibson’s for several months. National Reviewhas more:

This was but the beginning of the bakery’s ordeal. The student senate issued a resolution stating that Gibson’s had a history of “racial profiling” and “discriminatory treatment,” and the resolution was posted on campus for “a period of at least one year.” The head of Oberlin’s Department of Africana Studies published a Facebook post declaring that Gibson’s had “been bad for decades” and that “their dislike for black people is palpable.” He said, “Their food is rotten and they profile black students.”

Only this was decidedly not the case at all.  About a year after their arrest, the three students actually pled guilty to attempted theft, aggravated trespass, and underage consumption.  In other words, they were guilty of a crime, not victims of one.

Yet, these store owners had been maligned and financially damaged due to this orchestrated cries of “Racism! Racism!” Employees had their tires slashed, suffered severe anxiety, and were harassed. The owner of the store, 90-yr-old Allyn W. “Grandpa” Gibson, had to testify in court over what happened. Unsurprisingly, he was vexed over these racism accusations.

Allyn’s son David repeatedly asked the college to apologize and change course. “They ignored me,” he said.  Absent an apology (which would’ve cost the college nothing), Gibson’s Food Market and Bakery sued Oberlin College for defamation.

They won.  

Big. 

According to National Review, the jury awarded the plaintiffs $33 million in punitive damages after an $11 million verdict for the college’s role in a defamatory campaign against a small Ohio bakery. “The total damage award is so large that it may exceed state-law limits. But make no mistake, even if the award is reduced to, say, a ‘mere’ $25 million, this case is profoundly important,” writes David French.  He then explains that this this eye-popping damage award will help “create a legal market for litigation.”

There’s a relatively simple reason why campus free-speech codes proliferated well before there was a concerted legal counterattack — money. It takes money to sue universities, and First Amendment cases simply don’t yield eye-popping jury awards. It took the creation of large networks of nonprofit, pro-bono lawyers to turn the free-speech tide on campus. Common-law torts are different. Plaintiffs can receive real compensation, and universities have deep pockets. In a radio interview yesterday, I compared the verdict to the kind of sound that causes prairie dogs to stand alert — suddenly, lawyers are paying attention.

I personally wish they’d awarded them hundreds of millions of dollars, so the college would have to shut its doors.  However, I love that these leftist college officials are realizing that the deceptive, cruel mob mentality comes with a very high price tag. 

In Oberlin’s case, it was $33 million. Hopefully, this staggering number will deter other colleges from such reckless and cruel bullying.

Image Credit: Screen shot from court documents as found on Legal Insurrection’s Twitter account

Hat Tip: Legal Insurrection and National Review

About The Author

Mark Meckler

Mark was a co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, and served as the national coordinator. He left the organization to work more broadly on expanding the self-governance movement beyond the partisan divide. Mark appears regularly on television in outlets as diverse as MSNBC, ABC, NBC, Fox News, CNN, Bloomberg, Fox Business and the BBC. He’s highly sought after for the tea party perspective from print and electronic media outlets, from the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, L.A. Times, Washington Examiner, Politico and the The Hill. Mark blogs at MarkMeckler.com, and his opinion editorials regularly run in many of the leading political newspapers both on and offline. Mark has a BA in English from San Diego State University and graduated with honors from University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law in 1988. He practiced real estate and business law for almost a decade. For the last eleven years of his legal career he specialized in Internet advertising law. When not fighting for the future of our nation, Mark is an avid horseman, and lives in rural northern California with his wife Patty and two children.