U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Photojournalist attacked, has $1,000 of gear stolen while covering Wi Spa protests in LA

Incident Details

July 17, 2021

Photographer and journalist Eric Levai said he was surrounded and had around $1,000 of equipment taken from him after he photographed individuals at the Wi Spa, in Los Angeles, California.

The spa, located in LA’s Koreatown, became a flashpoint for anti-transgender demonstrators as the result of a viral video which police are now treating as a hoax, Slate reported.

Levai, who said he doesn’t wear press identification as he believes it attracts harassment, said it was around noon and he was covering what was happening at the Wi Spa when he spotted a photo opportunity. He stepped forward to take a shot of some masked individuals and a car around 50 feet away.

“I was doing my job and they just attacked me, screaming I was taking their picture,” Levai told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker. “Also, when they surrounded me, I kept telling them I was a journalist, but they kept attacking me.

Levai, who works regularly for the Daily Dot and Forensic News, as well as hosting a podcast, told the Tracker that he heard a shout, and then was charged by seven or eight people, who took his backpack including items which he valued in total at around $1,000. The items included a gas mask, goggles and a tripod.

“They grabbed the bag and phone,” he said. “They took pictures of me.”

Levai said he wasn’t injured in the incident, and that he had managed to take the phone with his photos out of the backpack, though another phone was stolen. The masked individuals then took off with his equipment, he said.

He said that going forward he would reconsider wearing a press ID, though he felt it could mean he gets targeted.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].