U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Student journalist sprayed with chemical irritant at UCLA protest

Incident Details

Date of Incident
May 1, 2024


Was the journalist targeted?
REUTERS/David Swanson

Pro-Palestinian protesters gather at an encampment at the University of California, Los Angeles, on May 1, 2024. Early that morning, counterprotesters attacked student journalist Shaanth Kodialam and three other journalists for UCLA’s Daily Bruin.

— REUTERS/David Swanson
May 1, 2024

Student journalist Shaanth Kodialam and three colleagues 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. Kodialam was sprayed with a chemical irritant — as were the others — while another was repeatedly punched and briefly hospitalized and a fourth beaten and kicked.

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.

Catherine Hamilton, news editor for the Bruin, told the Los Angeles Times that shortly before 3:30 a.m., 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, Kodialam and two other Bruin journalists. The group then began spraying the journalists with a chemical irritant while continuing to shine lights on them. As Hamilton tried to break free, she said the assailants punched her repeatedly in the chest and abdomen, and another student journalist was beaten and kicked on the ground.

Kodialam, a senior staff reporter for the Bruin, told the Times they begged the counterprotesters to stop as they watched their friend get pummeled.

“It’s not easy to do that job. It’s not easy to cover this event,” Kodialam said. “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.”

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.

Kodialam told the Times that they resumed their coverage of the encampment that same day.

“I can’t sit back while I watch my friends, my peers, the people who have trained me, the people who I have trained, be hurt that way and allow myself to not continue to do my job,” Kodialam said.

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