Chicken boxes featuring warnings about the dangers of carrying a knife have been sent to takeaways in England and Wales as part of a government campaign.
More than 321,000 boxes will replace standard packaging at outlets including Chicken Cottage, Dixy Chicken and Morley’s, the Home Office said.
Real life stories of young people who chose positive activities over carrying a weapon are printed inside the boxes.
Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said the plan was “crude” and “offensive”.
However, Home Secretary Priti Patel defended the campaign, accusing Ms Abbott of “playing politics with knife crime”.
Printed inside the special boxes, part of the Home Office’s #knifefree campaign, are first-hand accounts of young people who have opted to pursue pastimes such as boxing or music instead of carrying a knife.
Both independent and branch-owned chicken shops will carry the new boxes, and many will also house digital screens highlighting the campaign.
Policing Minister Kit Malthouse says they “will bring home to thousands of young people the tragic consequences of carrying a knife and challenge the idea that it makes you safer”.
But the government has been accused of racial stereotyping. David Lammy, Labour MP for Tottenham, wrote on Twitter: “Is this some kind of joke?! Why have you chosen chicken shops? What’s next, #KnifeFree watermelons?”
Dal Babu, a former chief superintendent with the Metropolitan Police, said: “This initiative seeks to target chicken shops because the assumption is that’s where young black people go.
“There’s a racial element to it – it stereotypes people, it’s patronising and I can understand why people see it as racist.”
Ms Abbott 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.
“They would do better to invest in our communities not demonise them.”
Courtney Barrett, who runs his own knife amnesty in east London told BBC News the scheme was a “step in the right direction” but stressed that it should not just involve chicken shops.
“The public need to be made aware not all knife crime is carried out by young people, black people and gangs,” the founder of Binning Knives Saves Lives said.
Recent figures showed most perpetrators of knife crime were over the age of 18.
Meanwhile, Patsy McKie, who founded Mothers Against Violence in Manchester after her son was shot dead, said sharing stories in this way was not enough to discourage young people from carrying knives.
“Just putting it on a box isn’t going to stop it,” she said. “Someone who is carrying a knife to feel safe isn’t going to put it down.”
Ms McKie added: “You often have to go through an experience to change your views.”
Peter Grigg, director of external affairs at the Children’s Society, is urging more government investment “in education for young people about knife crime” as well as in “early intervention and prevention”.
On Twitter Jeffrey Boakye described it as a “mess” and said there was a “national crisis in the perception of black kids in urban areas”.
And Sharmaine Lovegrove described it as “irresponsible” and “wildly out of touch”.
According to the Home Office, the #knifefree campaign aims to change the attitudes and behaviours of young people aged between 10 and 21.
It follows a series of government pledges to tackle serious violence, including the recruitment of 20,000 new police officers and enhanced stop and search powers for all 43 police forces in England and Wales.
Similar chicken boxes were distributed in 15 branches of south London based Morley’s in March, and the company’s managing director Shan Selvendran said it was “proud” to support the campaign.
“We want to start conversations amongst all of our customers,” he said.
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