UK cooks up race storm with knife-free chicken box plan
By John Goodrich

The UK government has sparked controversy by launching a campaign highlighting the dangers of knife crime in coordination with chicken shops, leading to accusations it is promoting racial stereotypes.

What's happened?

The Home Office said the plan to print first-hand stories from people who have experienced knife crime, which has risen significantly in the UK since 2014, on the inside of chicken boxes "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 boxes will replace standard packaging at several major fast-food chains and is part of a broader promotional campaign warning about the dangers of knife crime.

Twitter Screenshot

Twitter Screenshot

However, the plan was immediately condemned by opposition politicians who argued it promoted racial stereotypes. "The Home Office is using taxpayers' money to sponsor an age-old trope,"Labour MP David Lammy 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 Dianne Abbott backed Lammy's comments, tweeting that the campaign was "crude, offensive and probably expensive" adding that the government "would do better to invest in our communities not demonise them."

Is knife crime a problem in the UK?

Recent data from the Home Office showed that there were 43,516 knife-related crimes in England and Wales (policing is devolved in Scotland and Northern Ireland) in the 12 months to March 2019, 80 percent up from March 2014. Forty-three of the 44 police forces in England and Wales have recorded an increase in knife crimes since 2011. 

Figures from the Ministry of Justice show that most perpetrators of knife crime were over 18 in the year ending March 2019, with around one in five aged 10 to 17. The government campaign is targeted at people aged 10 to 21.

What's the government doing?

The new UK government, led by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, has prioritized three issues in the run-up to an expected election: Delivering Brexit, supporting the National Health Service and taking a hard line on law and order.

Johnson has promised 20,000 extra police by 2022 – predecessor Theresa May had insisted there was no direct correlation between a rise in crime and fall in police numbers – and to create 10,000 new prison places by the mid-2020s.

The Home Office, now led by Priti Patel, has also expanded the power of officers to conduct "stop and searches" of a person for weapons or drugs. Stop and searches dropped 80 percent from 2009-10 to 2017-18, government data shows, amid concerns they were being used to disproportionately target ethnic minorities.