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.