Police legally allowed to stop people for air fresheners

"The danger that police traffic stops pose greatly outweighs any benefit"

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Air fresheners that hang from rearview mirrors, a common accessory for cars, can be seen as illegal in some states that have laws prohibiting objects that can obstruct a driver’s view.

Though considered a low-level offense like having tinted windows or broken taillights, many civil rights advocates say offenses like these have become common excuses used to target people of color during traffic stops, according to the New York Times.

The shooting death of 20-year old Daunte Wright in Minnesota on Sunday was initiated during a traffic stop where officers raised an issue regarding the expired registration on his license plates and a hanging air freshener, according to Wright’s mother, Katie Wright.

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“He called me at about 1:40 [p.m.], said he was getting pulled over by the police. He said they pulled him over because he had air fresheners hanging from his rearview mirror,” Katie Wright said.

“My son was 20 years old. He got pulled over for having air fresheners in the car that I just gave him. All he did was have air fresheners in the car and they told him out the car, he got out of the car and his girlfriend said they shot him. He got back in the car and he drove away and crashed. And now he’s been dead on the ground since 1:47 [p.m.].”

Relatives of Wright told a crowd that after he was shot by officer Kim Potter, he re-entered his car and drove a short distance before crashing and dying at the scene, according to the Star Tribune.

ABC News reported that at least five states – California, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Texas, and Illinois – have laws prohibiting hanging objects while the total number is unclear. Though Minnesota’s laws don’t mention hanging air fresheners, it specifies that a driver cannot operate a vehicle with “any objects suspended between the driver and the windshield.”

Stanford University’s Open Policing Project examines racial bias in traffic stops with researchers analyzing more than 100 million traffic stops across the country. The research found that Black drivers were more likely to be stopped by police and both Black and Hispanic drivers were more likely to have their vehicles searched.

Read More: Mom of Daunte Wright’s child speaks out: ‘I’m just really hurt for my son’

Paige Fernandez, a policing policy advocate at the American Civil Liberties, said instances similar to Wright’s death prove that low-level offenses shouldn’t be handled by armed police officers due to the danger.

“The danger that police traffic stops pose greatly outweighs any benefit of having them engage in that,” Fernandez told The New York Times.

The topic stirred up conversations on Twitter when JT Henderson, communications director for Kentucky Lieutenant Governor Jacqueline Coleman, shared an image of his older son, saying he is now “forced to add, ‘Absolutely no air fresheners hanging from your mirror’ to the extensive lists of unwritten rules and de-escalation techniques.”

Conservative media pundit Ann Coulter criticized The New York Times, tweeting, “What explanation for the @nytimes lying about poor innocent Daunte being stopped for “air freshener” hanging from his rearview mirror other than …THE NEW YORK TIMES TRYING TO GIN UP RIOTS?”

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