By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog
LINCOLN, Neb. — A state senator, Omaha’s mayor and Nebraska’s attorney general are calling on Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers to apologize for comparing cops to ISIS terrorists and suggesting if he had a gun, he’d use it to shoot a cop.
Omaha Sen. Beau McCoy said lawmakers are discussing their options, including censure, admonishment or expulsion for the remainder of the session — which he said would require 33 votes out of 49.
McCoy took to the legislative floor Wednesday to demand an apology from Chambers.
Then later Wednesday, Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert joined McCoy in calling for an apology, issuing a statement saying:
“Senator Chambers’ attack on police officers shows total disregard for public safety. Why would any elected official state if he had a gun he would shoot a police officer? The senator should be looking for ways to improve public safety, not comparing police officers to terrorists. He owes an apology not only to Omaha police officers but to every citizen of Omaha.”
Chambers said Friday an “ISIS mentality” can be found in America, where police terrorize and shoot people. ISIS is the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, which has beheaded journalists and brutally executed Westerners and others.
“My ISIS is the police,” Chambers said Friday. “I would tell young people: If you tell somebody to go across the world to fight for ISIS, they can put you in jail if you just talk about it. If you want to fight injustice, don’t — you don’t have to go around the world to find the ISIS mentality, your ISIS is in America. And you’re likely to die over there, one way or the other. So if you’re going to die, die making your home safe. My home is not threatened by ISIS, mine is threatened by the police. The police are licensed to kill us: Children, old people.”
Then later, Chambers said, “If I was going to carry a weapon, it wouldn’t be against you, it wouldn’t be against these people who come here that I might have a dispute with. Mine would be for the police. And if I carried a gun, I’d want to shoot him first and then ask questions later, like they say the cop ought to do. But could I get away with it? You know I couldn’t get away with it. They’d better hope I never lose my mind and find out that I’m on my way out of here.”
Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer also released a statement on Wednesday afternoon saying Chambers’ comments were “not only reprehensible but are completely without merit.”
“The comments are unbecoming of a state legislator and have brought no value to the discussion of police community relations. I stand with my Omaha police officers as they are hard working, dedicated professionals.”
FBI spokeswoman Sandra Breault declined to comment on whether Chambers’ remarks would prompt an investigation, but released the following statement from FBI Special Agent in Charge Thomas Metz, Omaha division.
“Although the First Amendment protects free speech, it is both irresponsible and unfortunate that someone would make a statement concerning violence against police officers. It should be noted that this week alone, several officers have lost their lives in the line of duty.”
Attorney General Doug Peterson also condemned Chambers, saying it was “absolutely the most offensive statement I have ever heard made by a public official.”
“Law enforcement officers put their life on the line every day to protect all of us,” Peterson said in a press statement. “Both the officers and their families deserve our utmost respect, appreciation and support. They also deserve an apology from Chambers.”
The chairman of the state Democratic Party, Vince Powers, also said Chambers’ comments were offensive “to those who go in harm’s way for us and to all Nebraskans.”
“Senator Chambers trivializes the horrors committed by ISIS, who behead innocents, murder children and commit heinous crimes against humanity,” Powers said in a statement on Twitter and Facebook. “I hope that every Nebraskan will join me in condemning his remarks.”
Reporters attending the legislative hearing did not report on Chambers’ comments Friday, but KFOR Radio and Nebraska Watchdog did this week, prompting a flurry of national coverage from FOX News to the National Review to the Daily Caller.
Nebraska lawmakers are accustomed to Chambers’ vitriolic speeches, and rarely call him out, perhaps because he often retaliates by targeting them and their bills. But on Wednesday, McCoy took the unusual step of confronting Chambers.
“It’s appalling, and I’ve had enough,” McCoy said.
He said he first heard about Chambers’ remarks on Wednesday, when the story went viral.
“This is the first time in my time I’m going to stand up and take on Senator Chambers for something he said,” outside the chamber, McCoy said on the floor of the Legislature Wednesday, calling on Chambers to apologize to police and members of the military.
“What’s going on with ISIS today is terrifying, and I can’t believe that Senator Chambers would say that and try to draw some sort of a parallel,” he said. “It’s tragic, what’s going on in north Omaha with violence, particularly gun violence, but it’s not a comparison to what’s going on with ISIL and ISIS.”
To hear McCoy’s remarks on the floor, click here (courtesy KFOR):
Chambers made the initial ISIS comment during a hearing on a bill that would allow concealed weapons to be carried in bars, after the bill sponsor, Sen. Tommy Garrett, said people want the right to carry guns in a violent world with ISIS and radical terrorists.
“If I were going to do something — but I’m not a man of violence — I wouldn’t go to Syria, I wouldn’t go to Iraq, I wouldn’t go to Afghanistan, I wouldn’t go to Yemen, I wouldn’t go to Tunisia, I wouldn’t go to Lebanon, I wouldn’t go to Jordan, I would do it right here,” Chambers said Friday, pounding his fist.
“Nobody from ISIS ever terrorized us as a people as the police do daily. And they get away with it. And they’ve been given the license now. And people don’t like me to say this — then you rein in your cops!”
To hear audio of Chambers’ comments in their entirety, click here (courtesy KFOR):
Sen. David Schnoor, R-Scribner, later stood up on the floor and thanked McCoy for “standing up and saying what needed to be said.”
Chambers told Nebraska Watchdog on Tuesday he was drawing a parallel between police and ISIS because people in his north Omaha community often feel terrorized by police. He mentioned a recent case of an unarmed Omaha man shot twice in the back, and killed, by a cop, who was not charged with a crime but has since resigned.
“I’m not advocating that anybody, especially anybody in my community, go out and shoot people,” Chambers said Tuesday.
Chambers responded to McCoy Wednesday afternoon on the floor, refusing to apologize, saying he’ll continue to condemn the police when they’re wrong and blasting McCoy and Nebraska Watchdog.
“I will continue strongly and vociferously to criticize the police,” he said, recounting the Omaha police shooting. “I will not apologize for anything I said during the hearing. If anything, I will underscore it and add exclamation points.”
He mocked the fact that the story was picked up by national outlets, including FOX News, saying, “I’ve made it,” and saying Nebraska Watchdog “apparently doesn’t get the play that others get” on TV and newspaper but “she hit the mother lode” with this story.
“She’s probably now the darling of FOX television, which is not saying anything about your integrity,” Chambers said.
He also said he was getting phone calls from police officers from across the country, who sometimes said they wouldn’t stand for the police brutality he told them about.
“I’ve been answering phone call after phone call… I’ve never been so popular,” Chambers said.
He did, however, seem to enjoy the fact that someone finally confronted him on the floor.
“It’s somewhat refreshing for somebody to attempt to attack me on the floor of the Legislature,” Chambers said.
McCoy said late Wednesday conversations were underway among lawmakers “about how to handle this.”
“As a gentleman I offered him the opportunity several times to make a public apology, and he not only chose not to, he chose to be bombastic about it and doubled down on his remarks and say that he refused to ever apologize,” McCoy said.
McCoy said he will continue to stand up every day on the floor and call on Chambers to apologize, and lawmakers are discussing “what options are available to us,” such as censure.
“I’m not aware that it’s ever been used,” McCoy said. “I think Senator Chambers is in a place tonight that maybe he’s never been before.”
Click below to watch the entire hearing (Chambers’ controversial remarks begin about 51 minutes into the hearing):
Updated 9:34 p.m. Wednesday.
Editor’s note: to subscribe to News Updates from Nebraska Watchdog at no cost, click here.