A government attempt to reduce knife crime in UK cities by printing anti-violence messages on fried chicken packaging is feeding racist stereotypes, according to campaigners and opposition MPs.
Thousands of chicken boxes at takeaways in London, Manchester and Birmingham bear the slogan “#knifefree”. On the inside of the lids there are printed real-life accounts of young people who chose activities like boxing and music over carrying a blade.
More than 200 chicken shops – including Morley’s, Chicken Cottage and Dixy Chicken – are to rebrand a total of 321,000 boxes after signing up to the campaign, announced on the Home Office Twitter account on 14 August.
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Many participating shops will have screens showing films promoting the #knifefree campaign.
But the plan has brought an angry reaction from critics, who say it is based on racist stereotypes about black people, their diets and their involvement in crime.
“The Home Office is using taxpayers’ money to sponsor an age-old trope,” David Lammy, the Labour MP for Tottenham, north London, told The Guardian.
“Boris Johnson has already called black people ‘piccaninnies with watermelon smiles’. Now his government is pushing the stereotype that black people love fried chicken. This ridiculous stunt is either explicitly racist or, at best, unfathomably stupid.”
Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott has also criticised the campaign, calling it “crude” and “offensive”.
However, policing minister Kit Malthouse stood by the initiative, saying: “These chicken boxes will bring home to thousands of young people the tragic consequences of carrying a knife and challenge the idea that it makes you safer.”
He also stressed that the chicken box rebranding is part of a wider push by the Government to tackle rising knife crime, which will also see street teams visiting shops, hairdressers, community centres and places of worship across London, Manchester and Birmingham, reports The National.
“The Government is doing everything it can to tackle the senseless violence that is traumatising communities and claiming too many young lives, including bolstering the police’s ranks with 20,000 new police officers on our streets,” he said.
Home Secretary Priti Patel also defended the campaign, accusing Abbott of “playing politics with knife crime”.
Last week, a parliamentary investigation into knife crime heard that “chicken shop gangs” are grooming and recruiting children to deal drugs along so-called county lines with the offer of free food.
The Home Office says the #knifefree campaign aims to change the attitudes and behaviours of young people. But recent figures show that most perpetrators of knife crime are over the age of 18, says the BBC.
“The public need to be made aware not all knife crime is carried out by young people, black people and gangs,” Courtney Barrett, founder of Binning Knives Saves Lives, told the BBC.
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