Giannoulias and Ford: Eliminate Illinois’ Air Freshener Law
Democrats Push to Amend State Law to Curb Pretextual Stops that Target Minorities
Democrat candidate for Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias and State Rep. LaShawn Ford want to repeal an existing state law, which prohibits hanging items from a vehicle’s rear view mirror that often serve as a pretext for racially motivated traffic stops.
Illinois is one of just a handful of states that ban items from hanging from a vehicle’s rear view mirror or affixed to a windshield on the grounds that they obstruct a motorist’s vision. The current law allows police to stop motorists for minor vehicle code offenses, but in many cases those encounters can lead to verbal or physical confrontations with deadly consequences.
“Amending the current law will result in greater equity on the road and improve relationships between police and community by eliminating discriminatory traffic stops,” said Giannoulias, the former State Treasurer. “Pulling someone over for merely having an air freshener attached to their rear view mirror is not only archaic, it’s ridiculous. Prohibiting traffic stops that encourage discriminatory practices will ultimately make our streets safer for drivers and police officers.”
Representative Ford (D-8) has spearheaded changes in the law and is working with Giannoulias to sponsor legislation in the General Assembly’s spring session that would amend the Illinois Vehicle Code to abolish the air freshener law.
“We need to do everything we can to reduce the need for police interactions with people for non-violent and non-threatening violations,” Ford said. “There is no reason for police to pull over a vehicle just because they have an air freshener on their mirror or for many other minor infractions. Making this change in the law is too important to wait because it’s a safety issue for both the public and law enforcement. Law enforcement is overworked and understaffed. Springfield must use taxpayers’ resources wisely to catch the violent criminals that make all our communities less safe by repealing laws like the air freshener ban.”
Records show that police pull over a disproportionate number of drivers of color for minor traffic violations and result in motorists being unfairly stopped and searched for Driving While Black. Figures released by the state last summer show Black drivers and pedestrians in Illinois are close to three times more likely than whites to be stopped by police.
As part of his campaign, Giannoulias is also working with Representative Ford in seeking to push additional legislation that would curtail the use of pretextual stops for other low-level infractions that have disproportionately targeted Black and Latino motorists.
Other states and municipalities are taking similar action. In October, the Philadelphia City Council passed the Driving Equality Bill with the support of local law enforcement. The new ordinance classifies several offenses — including improperly displayed registration or emission stickers — as “secondary violations” that police cannot use as the sole reason for pulling over motorists. Violators of these infractions would still receive citations, but tickets would be mailed to the driver’s residence instead.
Chicagoan Daunte Wright was killed earlier this year in Minnesota after a police officer mistook her gun for a taser after pulling Wright over for having an air freshener hanging from the rearview mirror of his vehicle. Former Illinois resident Sandra Bland in Texas and Walter Scott in South Carolina each died following encounters with police involving pretextual stops.
Giannoulias and Representative Ford made clear that these efforts would not prohibit law enforcement officers from making legitimate public safety stops, especially in cases of reasonable suspicion or if the driver is suspected in criminal activity.