MOB-MASTER IN CHIEF
Professor says v@ndalism against Olympian photojournalist not his fault
BY BRANDI KRUSE on June 15, 2011
[*Editor’s Note: Peter Bohmer has always had difficulty accepting 1st Amendment principles (“Fk the Law!”) since his San Diego State College days, ~45 years ago, unless controlled in a way that suited/served his own viewpoint. He was fired from that college, not because, as he claims today, he was targeted by the FBI, but for intellectual dishonesty as an academic professor accused by one of his students of grading papers badly turned in by members of his class whose essays were inconsistent with Bohmer’s own radical political viewpoints. The college’s administration investigated the complaints, found merit in them, and booted Bohmer to prevent him from further abusing his position. Today, he urges his students to ‘smash the state’ (and capitalism) while admittedly holding a privileged position at a State institution of higher learning where he’s paid handsomely. Some things never change.]
In November 2007, a group of protestors, mainly students from Evergreen State College, gathered at the Port of Olympia to block shipments of military cargo to Fort Lewis. Tony Overman, a photographer for The Olympian, captured photos of both activists and police. At one point, he came so close to the action he was unintentionally pepper sprayed.
Overman was a media regular at such demonstrations. His photos seemed to be fair. So why did protestors, as he puts it, suddenly turn on him?
“One of the protestors told the other protestors that I worked for the police and they need to stop me from taking photos,” Overman said. “From that point on, it was; this photographer from the newspaper is your enemy.”
That protestor, said Overman, was Peter Bohmer.
“I was involved in the protests,” said Bohmer, an economics professor at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash. “I’m proud of that. I’ve nothing to hide.”
Bohmer also didn’t hide the fact that he did indeed say something to protestors about Overman that day.
“I knew he was a photographer for The Olympian,” he said, although he didn’t know Overman’s name at the time. Bohmer said protestors were cutting a lock or chain on a gate to the port when Overman started taking pictures.
“I did say he should not be photographing,” Bohmer said. “I didn’t think that he was working for the police. I said how the stuff could be used by the police.”
Overman said that’s when protestors backed him up against a fence and started to reach for his camera. He called 911.
Drew Hendricks is a well-known Olympia cop-watcher who monitors police. He was at the Port of Olympia that day gathering intelligence for the protestors on police and military movements.
“I saw Tony was agitated and he was on the phone with the police describing what had occurred,” Hendricks said.
Bohmer said Overman walked away from the group. “To me that was the end of it,” he said. “I’ve never had any other contact with him again.”
Since the Port of Olympia protests, however, Overman has been the target of vandalisms to his home, workplace and vehicle. He was even attacked at an anti-police brutality march by people who identified themselves as anarchists. Overman had been labeled a snitch and he blamed Peter Bohmer.
“He’s made no effort to tell me that he’s backed off on that claim,” Overman said. “Never apologized to me for saying that. Never admitted that it was wrong.”
But Bohmer said he didn’t know Overman blamed him.
“I don’t feel I threatened him,” he said. “I had zero to do with anything that’s happened to him since. You know while I may disagree with some of his actions, it’s not like I’m into targeting him personally.”
Bohmer has dedicated almost his entire life to radical social change. Before coming to Evergreen State College, he was known for his activism while an assistant professor at San Diego State University. He also played a major role in planning protests of the 1972 Republican National Convention.
“I began to see movements really having an effect,” he said. “I just got really committed.”
But his students at Evergreen say Bohmer has never forced his ideals onto them.
Miriam Calkins was involved in the 2007 Port of Olympia protests. She said they didn’t need Peter Bohmer to make them wary of having their pictures taken.
“Photographs are very powerful objects; they’re very powerful tools that people can use,” she said. “It’s very nerve-racking to have someone taking pictures of you when you don’t know their intentions.”
Calkins said they had good reason to believe there were anti-protestors taking pictures to share with police. But very few of Overman’s photographs were ever used to prosecute activists. The Olympia Police Department said only those that were published in the paper or online were used as evidence.
Hendricks, who is an anarchist, said he has no reason to suspect Tony Overman was working for the police. He also rejects reports that the recent string of vandalisms against Overman were done by anarchists.
“The fact that somebody’s trying to paint Tony as a snitch tells me the political author of this act isn’t thinking the way that we do as anarchists,” he said. “The idea of picking on Tony Overman, what is that going to achieve? It’s hard for me to wrap my head around.”
And while he encourages activism, Bohmer said targeting Overman isn’t the way to do it.
“I do think people need to really speak up, and stand up, but I don’t’ think targeting individuals is a way to build the kind of society we need and want.”
But Overman feels that’s exactly what Bohmer did.
Drew Hendrickson has taken it upon himself to take issue with this article in the comments section below. Due to the verbosity of the exchange, his arguments can best be summarized in the words of Donald Rumsfeldt, the Secretary of Defense during the Bush administration, in the following video: