UCLA Gaza Solidarity Encampment Attacked by Counter-Protesters During the Night/Early Morning Hours

Violence Erupts as Demonstrators Face Aggression During Tense Overnight Attacks

On the night and early morning of April 30 into May 1, UCLA students’ Gaza Solidarity Encampment was attacked by a group of counter-protesters who did not seem like students, many of whom were masked or wearing balaclavas. Counter-protesters had been antagonistic since the first day of the protest, but on this particular night, they seemed emboldened and infuriated by the continued existence of the camp and the students’ defiance.

I can say that this was the one time in my career as a reporter that I felt the most like my life was in danger, and that feeling proved to be true. Not only was I harassed and circled by the agitators at one point, but someone hit me over the back with an object, slapped my phone out of my hands in an attempt to keep me from filming, was cursed at and degraded verbally, and finally I was pepper sprayed at close quarters from behind which resulted in a loss of vision and painful burning sensations. I was fortunate that they did not launch an attack on me at that vulnerable moment. 

While there had been reports that counter-protesters had made attempts to infiltrate the camp at night and had also dropped a bag of mice nearby, April 30 was the night when they showed up in force and began a prolonged attack on the fence that separated the student-led encampment from the area where a jumbo-sized screen and sound system that had been set up the previous Sunday for a pro-Israeli rally, was located. 

Reports had come in from live streamers on-site at Royce Hall that fireworks were being set off near the encampment, with some actually being thrown into the area.  According to reports from the area, this seemed to be the work of the counter-protesters, especially since fireworks were aimed at their area of the Royce quad. Fireworks and the use of fireworks are strictly prohibited in the City of Los Angeles, according to the Los Angeles Municipal Code. The audio system was also being used to broadcast loud noises and music during the night to prevent the encampment members from sleeping.

When I arrived at UCLA and Royce Quad, I noticed a skirmish line of attackers taunting and attempting to break down the fence protecting the encampment, including the guard rails set up by the UC Police and the additional wood panels added by the students. 

These counter-protesters cursed and threatened the students, threw objects, and used pepper spray against any of the students who were caught outside of the encampment perimeter or any time they were able to strip away any of the protective layers of wood and umbrellas that the students used to fend the attack off. Reports from other sources state that one student was caught outside of the encampment area and set upon by the counter-protesters. The male student was beaten and sustained a head wound. The student was taken to the hospital for treatment. Later on, the student revealed, during a press conference on May 1, that he received 14 staples in the back of his head after a counterprotester slashed him with a piece of wood after he went out to help a fellow student who had gone outside the barrier. 

While I was in the middle of the fray, along with several other reporters and live streamers, I was singled out for attack more than once, and finally, pepper sprayed from behind with the full shot going into my ear and my left eye. I was very lucky both that a student medic appeared and treated me with saline and water and that the device that was used to spray me was not high-pressure. 

While all of these attacks were happening, the UC Campus police were standing nearby and did nothing. Even after I was pepper sprayed, I approached them, and all they said was to move back. They had a clear view of everything. It wasn’t until Mayor Bass sent out a communication at 1:00 a.m. local time that said, “The Mayor has spoken to Chancellor Block and Chief Choi. LAPD is responding immediately to Chancellor Block’s request for support on campus.” that there was any word that police might be dispatched to do something about the violence. 

I was pepper sprayed around 1:13 a.m., but nothing was done to stop the attacks until the LAPD arrived at 1:45 a.m. when the counter protesters heard the police were arriving and broke and ran. Still, after hours of violence, the counterprotesters were only required to leave the area. 

Most left, but some stayed, including many who were dressed all in black, and some were still wearing balaclavas and other face coverings. Several of them exited the restricted area and were congratulated by their friends. One particular man, who seemed like he was in his late twenties, was called “a king” and then said that “they got their a**es beat.” 

Anyone who had a mask on was treated with suspicion since the encampment required mask use. I was subjected to a final round of harassment when a crowd of counterprotesters circled me and pointed their cameras in my face and offered me lodging because they were implying I was homeless, a manicure, and then they disparaged my looks and accused me of “bear spraying” others, said I would be “exposed” and being a part of the encampment. I had never set foot inside of the encampment, and I was clearly the victim of a pepper spraying incident. 

I was only released from that harassment because a man that I didn’t know stepped into the circle and challenged the counter-protesters. As I was walking away from the area, I heard them taunting someone else, yelling, “We thought you were never leaving.” and gave chase to a small group. I heard the terrified scream of a woman and a short physical altercation before the group seemed to escape. 

I found out later that two of the women who are reporters from The Daily Bruin, the UCLA newspaper, were attacked by counter-protesters while they were leaving the scene. 

According to the Los Angeles Times, “Daily Bruin News Editor Catherine Hamilton said she was sprayed with some type of irritant and repeatedly punched in the chest and upper abdomen as she was reporting on the unrest. Another student journalist was pushed to the ground by counterprotesters and was beaten and kicked for nearly a minute, she said. Hamilton was treated at a hospital and released.”

Hamilton was quoted by the LA Times as saying, “I truly did not expect to be directly assaulted. I know that these individuals — at least the individuals who initiated the mobilization against us — knew that we were journalists. And while I did not think that protected us from harassment, I thought that might have [prevented us from being] assaulted. I was mistaken.”

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