U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Student journalist kicked, beaten at UCLA protest

Incident Details

REUTERS/David Swanson

Pro-Palestinian protesters gather in an encampment at the University of California, Los Angeles, on May 1, 2024. Four student journalists for UCLA’s Daily Bruin newspaper were attacked by counterprotesters early that morning.

— REUTERS/David Swanson
May 1, 2024

Student journalist Christopher Buchanan and three colleagues from his college paper were assaulted by counterprotesters while reporting on a pro-Palestinian encampment at the University of California, Los Angeles, in the early hours of May 1, 2024. Buchanan was beaten and kicked, another journalist was repeatedly punched and briefly hospitalized, and all were sprayed with chemical irritants.

UCLA’s student newspaper, the Daily Bruin, reported that protesters had erected the encampment on campus April 25 to call for a cease-fire in the Israel-Gaza war and demand that the UC system divest from companies that invest in weapons manufacturers for the Israeli military.

As the protest neared its seventh day, a group of approximately 100 pro-Israeli counterprotesters attempted to storm the encampment, the Bruin reported, tearing down the barricades surrounding it and shooting fireworks inside.

Buchanan told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that he was mainly covering the protest for CalMatters, a nonprofit newsroom where he is a student fellow, but was also capturing footage for the Bruin. As he and three fellow Bruin journalists were returning to the newsroom at approximately 3 a.m., they were set upon by a group of men whom Buchanan said didn’t appear to be students.

Catherine Hamilton, news editor for the Bruin, told the Los Angeles Times that the counterprotesters started chanting her name while shining a light on her, and that she recognized the leader of the group as someone who had previously harassed her.

Hamilton told the Times that the individual directed the others to encircle her, senior staff reporter Shaanth Kodialam and the two other Bruin journalists. The group then began spraying the journalists with a chemical irritant while continuing to shine lights on them and chanting Hamilton’s name.

Buchanan told the Tracker that he was shoved and someone attempted to tackle him from behind, but missed, falling onto the sidewalk in front of him.

“As I approached him, the group of men came around and grabbed me, shoved me to the ground, and they were beating and kicking me for about a minute,” Buchanan said. “I wasn’t seriously injured at all: I just had bruised ribs and a couple of bruises on my face.”

He noted that they sprayed him with a chemical irritant again while he was being beaten, and that his phone fell from his pocket in the course of the attack. When he attempted to retrieve it after the men had left, he found it in a nearby trash can, shattered. Buchanan said all of his protest footage from that night was lost.

Hamilton told the Times that the Bruin reporters were instructed to travel in pairs, report from outside the student encampment and leave if the protest became unsafe, but that she didn’t expect they’d be directly assaulted.

The encounter lasted approximately five minutes, the Times reported, and the journalists returned to the Bruin newsroom afterward. Hamilton was the only student who reported going to the hospital for injuries sustained during the attack.

“It’s not easy to do that job. It’s not easy to cover this event,” Kodialam told the Times. “At the end of the day, we’re all trying our best to serve our campus community and make sure our students, our faculty, our staff get the information they need.”

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated, first to identify the student journalist as Christopher Buchanan and then to include the damage to his phone and comment he gave to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.

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