Six protesters, including one student, were arrested last night (November 2) during protests against former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke’s appearance at Dillard University—an historically Black university (HBCU).
— Jessica M. Johnson (@jmjafrx) November 3, 2016
Controversy over Duke’s appearance grew after the late-October revelation that the candidate for one of Louisiana’s U.S. Senate seats polled just above the five percent threshold needed to participate in the debate. Mic reported at the time that university officials agreed to host the debate before they knew Duke would participate. Dillard’s president, Walter M. Kimbrough, confirmed that timeline in an essay for HBCUDigest.com.
Without explanation, debate producer Raycon Media decided to close the senatorial debate to the public, opting instead to televise it and air to journalists in a separate space. Many encouraged Kimbrough and Dillard officials to take action, including a student group called Socially Engaged Dillard University Students. The group wrote an open letter to Kimbrough demanding the university condemn Duke, permit 150 students to attend the debate and allow for an on-campus protest.
Kimbrough told Inside Higher Ed that the university needed to uphold its contract and record of hosting debates, and that people should “move on” from the controversy because Duke “doesn’t have a chance” in the election. “People will say having this kind of person on an historically Black campus is an offense to the nature of the institution,” he said. “I understand that. I just believe that our brand and what we do on a day-to-day basis is bigger than that.”
— Justin Campbell (@jcampbellnews) November 3, 2016
A group of 60 to 70 people protested Duke’s appearance outside the venue, chanting, “Let us in” and “No Duke, no KKK, no fascist USA.” Protesters told The Times-Picayune/The Associated Press that several people were pepper-sprayed by campus police when they attempted to enter the venue. A university statement printed by WSFA said that six people, including one student, were arrested for obstructing traffic after the debate. The university’s statement confirmed that university police used pepper spray to deter protesters from entering the building.
Inside, Duke called the protesters “Black Lives Matter radicals,” saying in his closing statement that, “The Black Lives Matter movement calls for the murder of police officers and calls for the death of police.” Raw Story reports that Duke also tried to defend previous anti-Semitic remarks (CNN previously noted that he called journalists who reported on Donald Trump’s “grab them by the pussy” video scandal as “CNN Jews”) by saying he was “against Jews or anybody else that puts the interests of some other place over our own country.” He also demanded Hillary Clinton be sentenced to the electric chair and lashed out at the moderator and other candidates even as the debate closed. Duke later left the venue with a New Orleans police escort, and The Times-Picayune reported that police tried to break up protesters who linked arms to prevent Duke’s escape.
The Gambit reports that Kimbrough blamed outside “instigators” for provoking the violence at the protest and sent an email to the university community pledging a student-only town hall to discuss the debate.