U.K. government tries to fight knife crime with "racist" chicken box campaign

By Haley Ott

/ CBS News

London — The British government is facing criticism for a "racist" and "misguided" campaign to prevent knife crime by printing anti-knife slogans on fried chicken boxes. The boxes, hundreds of thousands of which have been sent to restaurants around the country, say "#knifefree" and tell stories of young people who pursued hobbies like music instead of carrying weapons. Critics say the campaign both fails to meaningfully tackle the issue and plays on racist stereotypes.

Knife crime in England and Wales has risen by 80% since a low point 2014, according to government figures. The majority of knife crimes take place in London.

"Is this some kind of joke?!" member of parliament, David Lammy, tweeted. "Why have you chosen chicken shops? What's next, #KnifeFree watermelons?"

Is this some kind of joke?! Why have you chosen chicken shops? What's next, #KnifeFree watermelons? https://t.co/34DwwxSmCN

— David Lammy (@DavidLammy) August 14, 2019

"This ridiculous stunt is either explicitly racist or, at best, unfathomably stupid," Lammy told Britain's Guardian newspaper.

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Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott, the first black woman elected to British parliament, tweeted: "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."

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. They would do better to invest in our communities not demonise them. https://t.co/dGZBo3IypV

— Diane Abbott (@HackneyAbbott) August 14, 2019

In a statement announcing the campaign, Policing Minister Kit Malthouse said it would "bring home to thousands of young people the tragic consequences of carrying a knife and challenge the idea that it makes you safer."

The campaign targets individuals between the ages of 10 and 21. According to government statistics, the vast majority of people who commit crimes with knives are over 18.

"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," Malthouse said.

"Why is it in chicken shops? Why isn't it in Pizza Hut? Why isn't it in McDonald's?" Courtney Barrett, founder and director of the London-based group Binning Knives Saves Lives, told CBS News. His organization uses "knife amnesty bins" to collect weapons and get them off the streets of London.

It "is useless, it's foolish, and it shows how much they (the government) don't know what's going on with knife crime in this country. They really have no clue," he said.

As part of his work, Barrett speaks to parents in his east London community of Leyton, which has seen a number of recent incidences of violent knife crime, and encourages them to discard spare knives they may have in their homes. He also works to get young people into activities like boxing, music, or martial arts.

"Knife crime affects everyone. It can happen anytime, anywhere. All races, nationalities, ages, genders are carrying knives," he said. "Chicken shops, bloody hell. They should be starting in schools."

First published on August 15, 2019 / 3:30 PM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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