- Associated Press - Thursday, March 26, 2015

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska’s longest-serving state senator faced mounting criticism Thursday for likening the police to the Islamic State group, with one lawmaker calling on him to resign.

During a committee hearing on gun legislation last week, Sen. Ernie Chambers said “my ISIS is the police” because officers are licensed to kill and pose a threat to his neighborhood. He said he isn’t a man of violence, but if he carried a gun, he would use it as protection against police and would want to shoot first and ask questions later.

Chambers, a black independent, has long criticized law enforcement for what he considers harassment and racism shown toward those who live in his largely black, north Omaha district. His comments last week came after another senator argued that residents should be allowed to carry concealed weapons in restaurants that serve alcohol because people are afraid of ISIS and the Taliban.

Chambers’ comments have been criticized by a politically diverse range of colleagues in the unicameral Legislature, although some defended his free-speech rights and accused other lawmakers of piling on.

A group of senators gathered outside the Capitol’s legislative chambers holding “Support Blue” signs to show support for law enforcement, while calling on Chambers to apologize or to clarify his remarks. Some said they had been bombarded with calls from angry constituents.

Chambers said he is used to criticism and he refused to resign. He accused the lawmakers criticizing him of showing a “mob mentality” and urged them to read the full transcript of the hearing.

“I’ve stated that I give it. I can take it,” Chambers said. “Anything I say or do is very likely to carry consequences, because I deal with issues of consequence. And I’m prepared to abide those consequences.”

Chambers mocked the “brave men” who have called or shown up at his office, saying they’ve screamed at his secretary and used racial epithets. He said he started answering calls personally to protect her.

“These cowards ought to come see me,” he said.

Sen. Beau McCoy, of Omaha, raised the issue on Wednesday. Omaha’s mayor and police chief, Gov. Pete Ricketts and the Nebraska Democratic Party chimed in later.

McCoy, a Republican who has clashed with Chambers previously, pointed to recent police shootings nationally. He said he has ignored previous inflammatory remarks by Chambers, but he argued that last week’s remarks encouraged violence against the police.

“I believe this has crossed the line,” McCoy said. “We are endangering the lives of those who protect us.”

Freshman Sen. David Schnoor of Scribner called on Chambers to resign, arguing that no one ever holds him accountable. Chambers is known to mock Republicans and conservative Christians as hypocritical, alleging that they turn their backs on the poor.

“You make a mockery of everybody in here,” Schnoor said. “You make a mockery of the Senate.”

In a statement, Ricketts said Chambers should apologize for his remarks. Ricketts said the comments were out of line, creating distrust and the potential for violence.

“As public officials, we are held to a higher standard, and we should be,” Ricketts said. “No one should ever suggest the use of violence against law enforcement officials.”

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