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State senators confronted Sen. Ernie Chambers Thursday during an extraordinary two-hour discussion about his remarks last week comparing police interaction with black citizens to ISIS treatment of its victims in the Mideast.

One freshman legislator, Sen. David Schnoor of Scribner, demanded the Omaha senator resign from the Legislature.

But Chambers dismissed insistent calls that he apologize or retract statements he made during a committee hearing last week.

His critics focused their criticism on a brief remark by Chambers that if he carried a gun -- which he doesn't -- and found himself confronted by a police officer, he'd want to shoot first and ask questions later, "like they say the cop ought to do."

Gov. Pete Ricketts weighed in on the discussion from outside the legislative chamber by issuing a news release urging Chambers to "issue a full apology for his remarks (and) condemn all violence against law enforcement."

During an interview after the Legislature adjourned for the week, Chambers said "there's not a person in my (legislative) district who thinks I would want to shoot a cop."

"The kids in my community are too smart to put that interpretation on those words," he said.

During the debate, Chambers said he's "used to be being piled on" after growing up as a black youth in a white culture and later during a public career of confronting senators in a Legislature in which he usually was the sole black senator. Two of the 49 current senators are black.

"I don't expect you to understand what I'm talking about," he said.

A number of senators who took exception to Chambers' comments last week defended his right to express his views even if they disagreed with him.

"It's a wonderful opportunity to pile onto Sen. Chambers," Sen. Dave Bloomfield of Hoskins said after the flood of criticism had begun.

"I do not condone what Sen. Chambers said, (but) let those among us who are without sin cast the first stone."

Chambers, he said, has "done a great service to this body for 40 years."

Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha said he now regrets that he didn't "nudge Senator Chambers and express my disappointment" when he made the remarks during last week's Judiciary Committee hearing, but he said he also needs to be prepared to call a colleague to account the next time he hears a reference to "a retard."

Sen. Ken Haar of Malcolm said he has heard a senator refer to people who receive public assistance as "leeches," and he reminded colleagues that Sen. Beau McCoy of Omaha, who initiated Thursday's debate, dismissively knocked a bobblehead doll rendition of President Barack Obama off a fence post in one of his 2014 gubernatorial campaign TV ads.

"We've all said things that we shouldn't have," Haar said.

Speaker Galen Hadley of Kearney said senators have "the absolute freedom of speech."

Chambers, he said, "had the right to say what he said, even if I wish he had said it differently," and his critics have a right to say that "we think you were wrong."

Most senators who joined in the debate condemned Chambers for his remarks and voiced their strong support for law enforcement officers. A number of senators participated in a "Support Blue" rally in the Capitol Rotunda following adjournment.

"I'm demanding accountability," Schnoor told Chambers. "You make a mockery of everyone here."

Sen. Lydia Brasch of Bancroft said Chambers "has made a lot of wrong right" during his legislative career, but he should apologize for last week's words.

Sen. Brett Lindstrom of Omaha said he has decided to remove his name as a co-sponsor of Chambers' bill seeking repeal of the death penalty because "I no longer want my name associated with the senator."

In response, Chambers said that demonstrates Lindstrom has "no depth of conviction."

"Black lives matter," Sen. Robert Hilkemann of Omaha told Chambers. "Blue lives matter too."

Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte said his chief concern is that "some young hothead might say I'm going to go pop a cop" as a result of Chambers' remarks.

"Every one of us wishes we could have some words back," Sen. Bill Kintner of Papillion said.

Chambers, he said, should just "clarify that I don't think policemen should be shot."

Sen. Kate Bolz of Lincoln said senators who are concerned about law enforcement officers will have an opportunity to "make sure our communities are safe" by supporting corrections reform proposals when they reach the floor for consideration.

And Sen. Rick Kolowski of Omaha challenged legislators to show the same concern and passion for hungry children, education and health care.

It's too easy for legislators "not to see every Nebraskan, not to see people of color, people who are poor, people who need our help," Sen. Kathy Campbell of Lincoln said.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or On Twitter @LJSDon.


Political reporter

Don Walton, a Husker and Yankee fan, is a longtime Journal Star political and government reporter.

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