Sunday, May 08, 2011

'KeyWalk' marches sparked by Toronto officer's remarks

A new protest movement sparked by a policeman's ill-judged advice to motorists "not to leave their keys in the dash" has taken root in the US and Canada.

Thousands of people are arriving at car parks, some leaving their cars unlocked, others leaving the key in the dash provocatively - and then taking part in marches round the car park, or "KeyWalks".

The aim, say organisers, is to highlight a culture in which the victim rather than the car thief is blamed.

About 2,000 people took part in a "KeyWalk" in Boston on Saturday.

Boston organiser Siobhan Connors explained: "The event is in protest of a culture that we think is too permissive when it comes to car theft and break-ins.

"It's to bring awareness to the shame and abuse car owners still face for expressing their ownership of their own cars... essentially for behaving in a healthy and non-paranoid way" the 20-year-old told the Associated Press (AP) news agency.

Police Constable Michael Sanguinetti had been giving a talk on health and safety to a group of students at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto when he made the now infamous remarks.

"You know, I think we're beating around the bush here," he reportedly told them. "I've been told I'm not supposed to say this - however, car owners should avoid leaving the vehicle unlocked, or the keys in the dash, in order not to be a victim of car crime."

He has since apologised for his remarks and has been disciplined by the Toronto police, but remains on duty.

Some 3,000 people took part in the first "Keywalk" in Toronto last month. The Keywalk Toronto website said the aim of the movement is to "re-appropriate" the phrase "perhaps not the wisest thing to do".

"Ownership of a motor vehicle should not mean that we are opening ourselves to an expectation of theft of property or of the vehicle, regardless if it is locked or unlocked," it says.

"KeyWalks" have now been held in Dallas, Asheville in North Carolina, and in the Canadian capital, Ottawa, and are planned for Seattle, Chicago, Philadelphia, Reno and Austin.

Everybody, from singles, couples, parents, sisters, brothers, children and friends, are encouraged to join in.

The rallies typically end with speakers and workshops on stopping car crime and calling on law enforcement agencies not to blame victims after break-ins or thefts, AP says.

In a similarly-inspired protest, thousands of demonstrators failed to turn up at the first 'MoWalk' planned for Bethnal Green, London yesterday. The protest, where marchers were to wear T-shirts showing cartoons of Mohammed, was planned after a senior Metropolitan police officer said that anyone planning to wear a T-shirt bearing an image of the Prophet Mohammed in East London "needs their head examining", "must be tired of life" and would be "arrested for their own safety".

The aim, said organisers, was to highlight a culture in which the victim of an assault rather than the assailant is blamed. But they were disappointed with the turnout, as no marchers turned up. It is believed a mass outbreak of a little-known disease called timor mortis caused the no-show. Other "MoWalks" planned for Bradford, Burnley and Balsall Heath have been cancelled.

Of course the protesters are right. If you drive to New York City, and leave your keys on the hood, it is never, ever your fault if the car or its contents are stolen. The fault lies fairly and squarely with the thief. Nonetheless, the fact is that there are car thieves in the world. The cultural history of the twentieth century tells us that cars are very desireable objects, the subject of thousands of pieces of verse, art, literature and music. As Steven Pinker, in his review of Randy Thornhill's controversial "A Natural History of Car Theft" puts it :

"Men will spend huge amounts of money on cars; will spend hundreds of hours underneath them, repairing, restoring or enhancing them; will devote their leisure time to studying them. Many people desire cars that they do not own, cannot afford and never will be able to afford. It would run contrary to everything we know about human beings if they were NOT prepared to steal them."
The fact of leaving keys in your car, or doors unlocked, can be interpreted by unscrupulous and unethical people as an invitation to steal your goods or your vehicle, despite the fact that you have every right not to be violated in this way. I can see the unfortunate police officer's point - it's probably true that fewer cars would be stolen were their owners to lock them up and not leave the keys on show.

But that, in the end, is not what this issue and these demonstrations are about. They are about the absolute and unfettered right of car owners to conduct themselves (within the law) in any and every way they wish, with no limits or restrictions.


Anonymous said...

Damn right. And homeowners who don't keep their doors and windows locked at all times aren't helping. Anyone who doesn't sleep with a gun under the pillow clearly isn't taking all the crime-prevention precautions they could. Likewise anyone who carries their credit cards on the street, or who wears a short skirt.

I have a better idea. Maybe we could employ a bunch of people to try and catch the criminals. We could pay for it through our local taxes. It might be more effective than employing some drone to explain to us how we should all adapt our behaviour to the criminals.

Many other countries manage without this sort of paranoid nonsense. Many Europeans habitually leave their bags and cameras unattended in restaurants. I've seen hundreds of unlocked bicycles parked together on a European street. I've seen Africans ask complete strangers to mind their babies for a few minutes. Try doing that in London.

Even in the UK, I grew up in a village where the front doors weren't locked. It was only thirty years ago and it wasn't very unusual. But it relied on effective policing rather than "Crime Prevention".

It isn't the job of the police to tell us to lock everything up - they should be making the locks unnecessary.

I'm not surprised the Canadians are protesting. They are a robust bunch and, thanks to us, they know exactly where this agenda leads.

Laban said...

It would be a lovely world where we didn't have to lock stuff up. You still get a feel of that in some island communities - the Hebrides for example. Kids leave their bikes against the school wall - no locks.

But I doubt there have ever been any communities in history where being female, drunk and half-dressed in public hasn't had the potential for danger not too far away. And that would apply just as much to generally 'safe' (i.e. old-fashioned) places, which don't get to see so many drunk and half-dressed women.

Vladimir said...

To Anon. Low crime has always been partly the general public's responsibility - that's in Peel's principles, where "the police are the public, the public are the police". Surely this extends to taking sensible precautions to prevent crime.

I'm annoyed when the police appear to regard crime as inevitable, but in some ways they are right, as there is no way to completely eliminate it. They could do much, much more to prevent it, as demonstrated by recent history, but there has always been crime.

The SlutWalk business isn't so much about blaming the victim in general, and more about blaming the victim for one specific type of crime. The political factors involved here make it impossible to even hint that the victim might have some responsibility. The point of the protests is to shout down anyone who might still have the wrong opinions on the matter. However, these politics are only applicable to this very specific case. They are not a general protest against police defeatism.

Peter Risdon said...

Rather as uncovered meat attracts flies, Laban?

Laban said...

I did think of that guy when I wrote it ... but then I don't blame someone who leaves the keys in the dash and had their car stolen.

There's not really a huge issue with undress per se, otherwise beaches and swimming pools would be very unsafe places. To that extent our unfortunate officer did drop himself in it.

But when darkness falls, much alcohol is consumed, and the Friday night streets take on that Bacchanalian vibe - then maybe it's not a good idea to hitch home, and even less to get into that car with four blokes you don't know.

Victims of crime have no responsibility for the criminal act. But everyone with any self-respect has a responsibility to themselves, for their own safety.

The attitude of the march organisers, that it should be a woman's right to dress and behave as she pleases in all circumstances without the risk of assault, is in theory unarguably correct.

But if you're concerned to reduce the number of sexual assaults, I have a feeling that encouraging the public, outward expression of the inner slut may be counterproductive.

Anonymous said...

Vladimir - I'm all for taking sensible precautions. I just don't trust the police to decide for me which precautions are sensible. Leave it to them, and I'll be wearing a bullet-proof vest to go to the post office. No pockets, obviously. It'll need to be stab-resistant too, and proof against drunk drivers. God alone knows what I'll need to wear to travel on the Tube.

I'm aware of the narrowness of vision of the Slutwalk organisers, and I won't be going myself. But their error is in being excessively specific, not in being on the wrong side. Given the choice between having more scantily-clad women around the place, or letting the police decide what is sensible for them (and me) to wear, I know which side I'm on.

Anonymous said...

Nice find, Laban, looking at the evolutionary explanation. Rape is a problem for the po-mo criminologist who is nowadays loath to ascribe as old-fashioned a notion as agency to perps (it was society what made 'em do it). And yet the victim in rapes is nearly always from a "protected" victim class (women) and the perp from a predator class (men).

One could equally argue the evolutionary reasons behind many crimes (standard freeloader problem and a system's response to it), but here the victim and perp usually belong to the criminologist's preferred classes (privileged/deprived). At least that is how it appears to the nice middle-class academic.

This is probably the reason for the alacrity with which "hate crimes" are prosecuted today. After all, you really do know where you stand with a hate crime.

Perhaps the best advice is like that to those being chased by a tiger. Dress as sluttily as you want to but make sure you're not the sluttiest.

Anonymous said...

The new 'right' to act stupid. Darwin was right.

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