Air fresheners hanging from rear-view mirror becomes race-based issue in US

An air-freshener hanging from a rear-view mirror inside a car may be quite harmless right? Wrong. In several states in the US, it is deemed as something that may obstruct a driver's view ahead and so, has been prohibited. It is just that civil rights activists have now stated that this is being used by many cops to deliberately halt black drivers and harass them.

Image has been used for representational purpose.
Image has been used for representational purpose.

The accusations against cops have gathered momentum in the wake of a 20-year-old American of African origin being shot dead by Minnesota police earlier this week. The incident brought back memories of when 46-year-old George Flloyd was choked to death by a cop on May 25 of last year in Minneapolis.

While Flloyd's death, termed eventually as murder, sparked massive protests in the US and elsewhere against police high-handedness as well as racism, the fatal shooting of Daunte Wright more recently is threatening to re-ignite the agitation.

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It is reported that Wright was stopped by cops in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center last Sunday. While police officials state that he was pulled over for having an expired vehicle registration tag, the mother of the deceased has claimed it was because of the air freshners hanging from the rear-view mirror inside her son's car.

While the matter is being investigated, it is reported that cops attempted to arrest Wright when they discovered there is an outstanding warrant against him. There is believed to have been a scuffle in which one of the cops reportedly shot Wright dead. The police chief would later said that the cop in question meant to fire a taser but mistakenly used a gun.

While there are several dimensions and even more ramifications of the unfortunate incident, the rule restricting air freshers has come into focus. Associated Press reports that apart from Minnesota, California, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Texas and Illinois have laws against hanging objects on rear-view mirrors. While not all of these states clearly name air freshers, most do prohibit hangings of any kind.

But activists say that it is something that cops, even in these states, often tend to ignore but some use it as a pretext to specifically target non-white drivers. Several legal experts who work for civil liberties and are strong believers of race equality state that something as harmless as an air-freshner dangling from a rear-view mirror often becomes an excuse for cops to stop and search black or brown drivers.

Not surprisingly, police departments mostly feign ignorance and claim that officers either don't notice such small things or aren't stopping people based on the colour of their skin. In the rare case that someone is pulled over for having an object hanging from the rear-view mirror, it could lead to discovery of some other crime, some of the police officials have stated in the past.

But records show that there have been several instances of non-white people complaining of harassment at the hands of the cops for the minutest of reasons. Many have often taken the legal course of action as well. When something like an air-freshner has the potential of getting one arrested - or worse, it does seem like a grim issue.

First Published Date: 16 Apr 2021, 09:06 AM IST
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