Cops can pull over drivers in Minnesota, other states for hanging air fresheners on rearview mirrors

Traffic stop
Posted at 3:23 PM, Apr 13, 2021

The shooting death of Daunte Wright in Minnesota earlier this week has sparked new criticism of laws that critics say allow police to racially profile drivers.

Among those are laws in several states that prohibit drivers from hanging air fresheners from their rearview mirrors.

Wright was shot and killed during a traffic stop on Sunday afternoon in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota. While many of the facts around the traffic stop remain unclear, Wright’s mother told reporters Sunday that he called her before his death to say that police had pulled him over due to an air freshener that was hanging from his mirror.

Former Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon said during a press conference on Monday that officers initially pulled Wright over because the registration tags on his license plates were expired. He also stated officers took note of the air freshener on Wright’s rearview mirror.

Gannon said police then attempted to take Wright into custody on an outstanding misdemeanor charge, though they have not confirmed what Wright had been charged with. A struggle ensued, during which Gannon said Officer Kim Potter attempted to deploy her stun gun but mistakenly grabbed her firearm.

Both Potter and Gannon resigned from their positions on Tuesday morning.

Despite the criticism from activists, it is against Minnesota statute to drive with objects that are “suspended between the driver and the windshield,” other than sun visors, rearview mirrors, safety monitoring equipment, GPS systems, toll collection devices or “identifying devices.”

In a statement following Wright’s death, the ALCU of Minnesota criticized the state law, calling it “an excuse for making a pretextual stop, something police do all too often to target Black people.”

The law has made national news in the past. In 2012, WNBA star Seimone Augustus tweeted that she has been stopped by police in a Minneapolis suburb because she had an air freshener hanging from her mirror. Augustus, who is Black, claimed in a tweet that she was the victim of racial profiling. The Roseville Police Department denied the claims.

Minnesota isn’t alone. According to CNN, California, Pennsylvania and Arizona also have similar laws in place.

CNN notes that Arizona’s law only makes such objects illegal if they “obstruct or reduce” the driver’s view.

Virginia recently made changes to its “dangling object law.” As of March 1, police can still penalize drivers with objects hanging from their mirrors, but they must have other cause to pull them over first.

Such laws have stood up to legal challenges in the past. In 2018, two Black men in Chicago were pulled over after police noticed an air freshener dangling from a rearview mirror. They were later each charged with unlawful possession of a firearm. The two later appealed to the Seventh Circuit Appeals Court, which ruled that there was “reasonable suspicion” that a tree-shaped air freshener obstructed the driver’s view.