If you’ve ever had the experience of being a young Black person in America, you’re likely familiar with what racial profiling looks and feels like. You’re also likely familiar with cops who look for any and every petty excuse to stop you so that they can go on a fishing expedition for a reason to arrest you.
And sometimes the law helps them do it.
A viral TikTok video shows a Black man being pulled over by police in Wall Township, New Jersey, according to the Independent, and when the man, identified as Alex Harbour, asked why he was pulled over, he was told he was stopped because of the air freshener hanging from his review mirror.
Actually, the video titled “When they pull you over for NO REASON but have to find A REASON,” begins with the Wall Township police officer told Harbour he pulled him over because he “didn’t use your blinker,” which Harbour denied.
From the Independent:
The officer then told him that he had also pulled him over because of the air freshener hanging from the mirror.
“He has no reason to pull me over at all,” Mr. Harbour said, adding that the officer pulled a U-turn to start following him when he left a ShopRite store before making the stop.
When Mr. Harbour asked for a senior officer to come to the scene, the officer said that was not necessary, despite state law allowing anyone stopped by the police to make the request.
In a second video, Alex Harbour asked the supervising officer to provide the dashcam footage but was told that was not possible unless he received a ticket.
The first officer then told him that he would not receive a ticket for the alleged blinker offence, but would get one for the air freshener.
As it turns out, hanging an air freshener (or anything, for that matter) from the rearview mirror of a car is considered a traffic violation in at least half a dozen states in the U.S. The idea is that the hanging object will obstruct the driver’s vision, which, in this case, only makes sense if you’ve literally never seen an air freshener or the amount of space it takes up in front of a windshield.
At the end of the day, Alex Harbour was most likely the subject of what is known as a pretextual stop, which is the standard police practice of using low-level misdemeanor traffic violations as an excuse to pull a motorist over with hopes of finding felonies to arrest them for. Cops have defended this practice for years.
“The more you limit the ability of a law enforcement officer to intervene in something that would be a violation of the law, you limit their ability to discover other criminal activity,” Dana Schrad, the executive director of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, said in response to Virginia passing a bill in 2020 to change its traffic laws to reduce these stops.
Besides the fact that cops are essentially admitting to exploiting a legal loophole that allows them to get around the Fourth Amendment rights of U.S. citizens, numerous studies have shown that Black motorists are disproportionately targeted by police for pretextual traffic stops.
So, one can argue that “the law is the law,” but it would be delusional to argue that the law is colorblind and applied with equality in mind.
Sometimes cops need a reason to pull Black people over for no reason. It’s really that simple.
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