NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Six top candidates vying for Louisiana's U.S. Senate seat met Wednesday night at Dillard University for the FOX 8 Raycom Media statewide debate. While there was pointed differences on the debate stage inside the Georges Auditorium, dozens of protesters clashed with campus police outside.
Campus police had to use pepper spray to break up the crowd that was opposed to former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke's involvement in the debate, despite his polling numbers earning him a spot on stage.
Below is the full statement Dillard University released after the event:
"Dillard University honored our commitment as host of tonight's Louisiana Senatorial debate.
Ultimately, and unfortunately, the selection of the next senator from our state became a secondary issue as the focus centered on the University's response to protests on the campus.
At no time did Dillard discourage protests; either by students or members of the community. We shared a dual responsibility of providing a safe space for those protesters and for the orderly management of the event.
As the time of the debate neared, the protests became less peaceful. Some members of the crowd attempted to move past Dillard Police and into the debate area. After repeated requests by officers for the crowd to step back and allow the doors to be closed, individuals then began to force their way into the building.
As a last resort, DUPD made the decision to use pepper spray to stop the advancement of the crowd. After a second attempt to enter the building, officers again utilized pepper spray as a deterrent.
For the duration of the debate protesters continued to peacefully assemble outside the building. No arrests were made, though three individuals were briefly detained.
As the protests were proceeding, Dillard Student Government hosted its own Debate Watch Party in the Student Union. Based on observations, there were roughly 50 protesters on hand. Those numbers were dwarfed by the attendance of the watch party.
After the conclusion of the debate, a small number of protesters began to block the entryways to the campus. After several requests to disperse, six individuals were arrested for obstructing traffic. One of those six was a Dillard student. They were transported to Central Lockup for booking.
Dillard University will continue its dialogue with the student body in dealing with the issues brought forth by these events. While tonight was a great challenge, it is also a great opportunity for our University to grow stronger together."