Dane S. Claussen, ACLU of Nevada Executive Director, issued the following statement on the killing of Treyvon Martin

The Trayvon Martin killing was a horrendous act that is a grim reminder of the continued racism of so many American citizens, and the vigilante mentality of a small percentage of Americans who own guns, whether they are in law enforcement, the military, or private citizens. The way in which the investigation and other follow-up of the killing by the Sanford, Florida, police department demonstrate racial bias and official incompetence. The Trayvon Martin shooting requires a more reliable investigation, Sanford police and city officials must be held accountable for how this incident has been handled so far, and George Zimmerman should be appropriately charged after the completion of that more reliable investigation.

At the ACLU of Nevada, our staff and board has been following all of the events of the Trayvon Martin killing and its aftermath with deep concern. We also know that these events have received substantial attention from Nevada’s news media and Nevadans generally. The ACLU of Nevada supports the work of our colleagues at the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, other civil rights organizations and leaders, and the general public in responding to this event.

As a former journalist myself, I commend widespread attention provided by U.S. news media to the outrageous death of a young African-American man, and the resulting calls for action by officials and average citizens. U.S. news media typically give extensive national coverage to local, isolated crimes, only when they are outrageous and occur to white citizens, particularly those who are young, physically attractive, female, and from the middle class or wealthy segments of the population. Such coverage is, in fact, highly predictable, including claims by neighbors or relatives such as “things like this aren’t supposed to happen here,” as if deaths, kidnappings, rapes, or major injuries are supposed to happen somewhere else, or anywhere at all.

The terrible events in Sanford, Fla., are a wake-up call to all Americans and demand that we all seek opportunities to alter our environments for the better. I urge Nevadans to take this moment to reflect on how they can make a difference to civil rights and civil liberties abuses here in our home state. There are civil rights violations in Nevada’s prisons, jails, schools, and the public streets every day. Earlier this week, a Summerlin homeowner apparently shot and killed a probably unarmed intruder in his backyard. That incident is still under investigation. But it serves to illustrate that while the common law right for citizens to protect themselves and their property is extensive and has been well developed and well understood for hundreds of years, it is not unlimited. In Nevada, reasonable force in such situations is justified only when the action must be taken to protect one’s one life or others from serious injury or death. In other words, neither trespassing nor subjective fear, alone or together, are sufficient to justify such a fatal shooting on a fence or in a backyard.

As a result of the Trayvon Martin killing, Florida is poised to reconsider the so-called “stand your ground” legislation that evidently inspired George Zimmerman to take a life. Nevada’s 2011 Legislature also passed a similar law [Assembly Bill 321] codifying the so-called “Castle Doctrine.” Therefore, we, as Nevadans, must also be vigilant in examining the elements of our legal environment that foster such a shocking disrespect for a young man’s life.