In a perfect world, Ernie Chambers could make his points without controversial hyperbole.
During a recent committee hearing in the Nebraska Legislature, State Senator Ernie Chambers said “My ISIS is the police. Nobody from ISIS ever terrorized us as a people as the police do us daily. And they get away with it.” In the same remarks, Chambers said that he does not own a gun, but if he did, he would use it for protection against the police: “I would want to shoot him first and ask questions later, as they say the cop ought to do.”
Naturally, Chambers’ remarks have been denounced and criticized by fellow senators, Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts, police chiefs and unions, and people all across Nebraska. The story drew national headlines after an article on Nebraska Watchdog was picked up by Fox News.
It’s pretty easy* to condemn Chambers for these outlandish comments. No police force in the United States comes close to the heinous acts of violence and terror committed by ISIS. It’s unthinkable for any elected official to suggest violence against police officers. Therefore, the condemnation has been loud and prolonged – to the point where a state senator interrupted a parade of floor speeches attacking Chambers with an admonition to “get on with the people’s business.”
*Not to be lost in the rebukes of Chambers – especially from those calling for his censure or resignation – is the fact that Nebraska’s longest-serving senator is not a popular figure in the state. Chambers is widely regarded as a master of Unicameral’s rules and procedures, and he regularly uses them to kill bills that he disagrees with. One of the first, and loudest voices in this current controversy belongs to Senator Beau McCoy, who has been on the receiving end of Chambers’ ire.
I’m not saying that this controversy is without merit, nor that McCoy is only pushing the issue because he has a grudge with Chambers. But I do think that some of the people calling for Chambers to resign are being opportunistic having sensed a rare chance to have a thorn in their side removed. It can easily be argued that Nebraska’s term limits legislation, approved by voters in 2000, was directed at removing Chambers from office.
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There is an uncomfortable truth about Ernie Chambers’ ISIS comments: In the context of the remarks, he kind of has a point.
The comments took place during testimony on LB635, which would allow concealed carry permit holders the right to carry a concealed handgun in an establishment deriving 1/2 of profits from alcohol – i.e. most bars and restaurants. You can watch the hearing in question here: (Skip forward to the 51:00 mark).
During the testimony, State Senator Tommy Garrett was asked “what are (concealed carry advocates) afraid of?” Senator Garrett’s response references ISIS and the Taliban. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to a bar or restaurant in Nebraska – particularly in the small towns west of Lincoln – but the odds of running into a member of any international terror group in say, Kimball or Neligh are Powerball-esque.
In his remarks, Senator Chambers referenced two former Lincoln Police Department officers who were dismissed for excessive force. According to Chambers, one was recruited by the Nebraska State Patrol, and the other by the Lancaster County Sheriff. Chambers, a black man representing a largely African-American district in Omaha, also noted the racism that can occur on police forces.
In my mind, the point Senator Chambers was trying to make is that for many people (particularly people of color in his district), they are much more likely to be injured, shot, or killed by a member of law enforcement than by ISIS or any other terrorist group.
With all due respect to the friends and acquaintances I have who serve honorably in various Nebraska law enforcement agencies, I would agree with that presumed point. I’m in no way implying that cops in this state are dirty, racist, or seek out opportunities to be violent. It’s just that compared to Senator Garrett’s example of ISIS as a justification for expanding concealed carry rights, the police do represent a bigger threat to the safety of citizens.
That may not be easy to hear, and you may not choose to believe it. It’s definitely not an absolute truth, but one would be foolish to pretend racism and excessive force doesn’t exist. In my mind, the police are far less of a threat than drug users, gang members, and the mentally unstable. But of course, I’m a 40-year-old white guy who lives in southeast Lincoln – not a 20-year-old black man in north Omaha, so my worldview is limited.
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Does the possibility that Ernie Chambers had a legitimate point – whether or not you agree with it – excuse or dismiss what he said?
No. They don’t. And that is where Senator Chambers failed.
Chambers’ claim of two officers excused for excessive force being recruited by other law enforcement agencies is, if true, rather concerning to me. But those claims have been all but lost in the coverage of this incident. Why? Because of bombastic and hyperbolic nature of the “my ISIS is the police” sound bite.
A handful of people saw through the rhetoric of a man who once tried to sue God. Former Lincoln chief of police, Tom Casady, tweeted that Chambers was “far more likely to give birth than shoot a police officer.” Another senator, Les Seiler, said the remarks were “Ernie being Ernie”. But this time, Chambers went too far in an attempt to make his point.
In today’s society, the media and the public will focus on the outrageous (and our need to be outraged) than on things that may truly be wrong.
In a perfect world, Senator Chambers could make his points without stirring up a tornado of controversy.
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(Author’s note: Wondering why there is a random letter in parentheses in the title of this post? Not sure how this post corresponds to the daily letter in the April A to Z Challenge? Like clicking on links? These questions are all answered here.)