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On Oberlin's campus. Photo: Getty

A high-profile dispute between Oberlin College and a local bakery over accusations of racial profiling and libel is emerging as a microcosm of a larger national debate over how political polarization is upending the country.

The backdrop: In 2016, a black student was caught shoplifting from Gibson's Bakery, after which the bakery owner's son, who is white, reportedly put the student in a chokehold. That sparked protests in the small town.

  • Students gathered outside the shop to demonstrate against what they called a history of racism and racial profiling at Gibson's.
  • Then Gibson's sued Oberlin, claiming that the college defamed the shopkeepers and disrupted business.
  • As a result, the jury ruled that Oberlin owes Gibson's $44 million in damages. On Friday, a judge lowered it to $25 million.

Why it matters: Oberlin College president Carmen Ambar said the bakery would likely suffer a couple million dollars of damage over a few decades, and she questioned whether the steep penalty was reasonable.

  • But the issues at stake are much deeper.
  • This small-town conflict between students and local residents is a crystallization of national debates around race relations and the limits of free speech.
  • Those on the right are viewing the court's decision as "everything that's right with the country," and those on the left see it as "everything that's wrong with the country," Ambar said.

Ambar said a decision whether to appeal has not been made.

Neither the Gibsons nor Lee Plakas, their lawyer, returned calls seeking comment.

Go deeper

2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Trump to issue at least 100 pardons and commutations before leaving office

Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

President Trump plans to issue at least 100 pardons and commutations on his final full day in office Tuesday, sources familiar with the matter told Axios.

Why it matters: This is a continuation of the president's controversial December spree that saw full pardons granted to more than two dozen people — including former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, longtime associate Roger Stone and Charles Kushner, the father of Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

  • The pardons set to be issued before Trump exits the White House will be a mix of criminal justice ones and pardons for people connected to the president, the sources said.
  • CNN first reported this news.

Go deeper: Convicts turn to D.C. fixers for Trump pardons

Schumer's m(aj)ority checklist

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Capitalizing on the Georgia runoffs, achieving a 50-50 Senate and launching an impeachment trial are weighty to-dos for getting Joe Biden's administration up and running on Day One.

What to watch: A blend of ceremonies, hearings and legal timelines will come into play on Tuesday and Wednesday so Chuck Schumer can actually claim the Senate majority and propel the new president's agenda.

The dark new reality in Congress

National Guard troops keep watch at security fencing. Photo: Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

This is how bad things are for elected officials and others working in a post-insurrection Congress:

  • Rep. Norma Torres (D-Calif.) said she had a panic attack while grocery shopping back home.
  • Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said police may also have to be at his constituent meetings.
  • Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) told a podcaster he brought a gun to his office on Capitol Hill on Jan. 6 because he anticipated trouble with the proceedings that day.