We live in a country defined by some very arbitrary laws, and one of the many concerns is that of the air freshener. These items, which are designed to be hung from your rearview mirror, can indeed be cause for the police to pull you over.
This does, of course, relate to the fatal shooting of Daunte Wright during a traffic stop one week ago. Wright called his mother just before his death to tell her he had been pulled over for having an air freshener hanging from his rearview mirror.
That being said, Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon has told varying stories to reporters. He initially claimed that Wright was pulled over for an expired tag but that an item hanging in the rearview eventually became a cause for concern. Gannon also said that Wright had a gross misdemeanor warrant in his name.
None of those things are justification for killing someone during a routine traffic stop. But for communities that frequently suffer discrimination and racial profiling at the hands of police, it can be life-saving to know that, in some states, an air freshener hanging from your rearview mirror can be cause enough for a traffic stop. Again: this is not to place blame on Wright or any other person of color, since the ultimate decision to pull the trigger lies in the hands of police, and it is those officers that should be held accountable. But we live in a society where that accountability is just not happening at a fast enough rate to save Black lives.
Minnesota law 169.71 states the following:
A person shall not drive or operate any motor vehicle with ... any objects suspended between the driver and the windshield, other than: sun visors; rearview mirrors; driver feedback and safety monitoring equipment when mounted immediately behind, slightly above, or slightly below the rearview mirror.
Basically: you can have a GPS, an electronic toll pass, sun visors, state-approved stickers (like your registration sticker), and the mirror itself on your windshield. You can’t have anything else, which includes air fresheners. Having one is considered a misdemeanor, which can be punished with a maximum of a few months in jail, depending on where you live.
California, Pennsylvania and Arizona also have laws prohibiting hanging air fresheners or other “dangling objects” from your rearview mirror. It is also illegal in Virginia, but police officers are no longer allowed to pull someone over for this reason.
The ACLU of Minnesota released a statement that said, “We have concerns that police appear to have used dangling air fresheners as an excuse for making a pretextual stop, something police do too often to target Black people.” There have been other instances of Black folks being either pulled over or targeted by police for having air fresheners, which includes WNBA player Seimone Augustus.
So, if you’re in California, Pennsylvania, Arizona, or Minnesota, you’ll want to hang your air fresheners somewhere else.