U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

UCLA journalist sprayed with chemical irritant at protest

Incident Details

Date of Incident
May 1, 2024


Was the journalist targeted?
REUTERS/Mike Blake

The sun sets at a pro-Palestinian protest encampment at the University of California, Los Angeles, on May 1, 2024. Early that morning, counterprotesters attacked a group of four student journalists for UCLA’s Daily Bruin newspaper.

— REUTERS/Mike Blake
May 1, 2024

Four student journalists were assaulted by counterprotesters while reporting on protests at the University of California, Los Angeles, in the early hours of May 1, 2024. One was beaten and kicked, another 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.

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, senior staff reporter Shaanth Kodialam and 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.

As she tried to break free, Hamilton said, the assailants punched her repeatedly in the chest and abdomen. Another student journalist was pushed to the ground and then beaten and kicked for nearly a minute, the Times reported.

Kodialam told the Times they watched as their friend was pummeled and begged the counterprotesters to stop.

Hamilton said that the Bruin reporters were instructed to travel in pairs, report from outside the student encampment and leave if the protest became unsafe.

“We expected to be harassed by counterprotesters,” Hamilton said. “I truly did not expect to 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 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.”

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