LONDON -- A new campaign to raise awareness about the perils of carrying knives in chicken shops across the United Kingdom has been accused of peddling stereotypes and “bordering on racist” by lawmakers and campaigners.
The government rolled out the #knifefree chicken boxes scheme Wednesday, which would replace the standard packaging in both independent and larger chains of chicken shops across the country.
Over 321,000 chicken boxes will contain real life stories of young people who have abandoned knife crime to “pursue positive activities,” the Home Office said. Some lawmakers claimed, however, that the move was “offensive.”
“Instead of investing in a public health approach to violent crime, the Home Office have opted for yet another crude, offensive and probably expensive campaign,” Labour Party politician Diane Abbott said on Twitter. “They would do better to invest in our communities not demonise them.”
The Labour politician David Lammy, who has campaigned extensively on the issue of knife crime, went one step further in his criticism, saying the campaign “sponsor[ed] an age old trope.”
“Is this some kind of joke?!” he posted on Twitter. “Why have you chosen chicken shops? What's next, #KnifeFree watermelons?”
In another tweet he said: "This ridiculous stunt is either embarrassingly lazy or, at best, unfathomably stupid.”
Courtney Barrett, the founder of “Binning Lives Saves Lives,” a community organization in London that runs a knife amnesty program to allow people to drop off their knives safely, described the move as “bordering on racist.”
“It’s a stunt to make themselves look good,” he told ABC News. “It’s backfired on them, because most knife crime is committed by adults, first of all, and most knife crime isn’t committed by gangs. By doing the chicken shop boxes, you’re targeting young black people.”
The use of chicken shops advanced a harmful stereotype of black people, he added, and the idea to raise awareness could only work if it was rolled out across a variety of business sectors, as “knife crime affects everyone.”
However, the Policing Minister Kit Malthouse said that the 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.”
“The government is doing everything it can to tackle the senseless violence that is traumatizing communities and claiming too many young lives, including bolstering the police’s ranks with 20,000 new police officers on our streets,” he said in a statement.
Priti Patel, the Home Secretary and lawmaker responsible for the scheme, defended the proposal and said claimed that her critic Diane Abbott was “playing politics with knife crime.”
The rising knife crime rate in the U.K. has become an intense topic of national debate in recent months. According to the latest government figures in 2018, there were 285 "knife and sharp instrument" homicides in the year ending March 2018 -- the highest since records began in 1946. London has been at the heart of much of the attention on the increase in knife crime in the U.K.
The increase drew headlines in February 2018, a month in which London had a higher murder rate than the city of New York.