‘Knife crime isn’t just about chicken shops’

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Jackie Mudimi and her children in Chicken Cottage
Image caption Jackie is concerned her young children could see the graphic warnings

In London, chicken shops are a great social leveller.

The food is universally appealing – cheap, greasy and utterly delicious.

At lunch time shops are inundated by hordes of local school children in their uniforms, screeching and stealing each other’s chips.

In the evenings families and friends descend on their local franchises to share a bargain bucket and some quality time.

But soon more than 321,000 food boxes featuring warnings about the dangers of carrying a knife will replace the standard packaging at shops across England and Wales as part of a Home Office campaign.

Real life stories of young people who chose positive activities over carrying a weapon are printed inside the boxes accompanied by the hashtag #knifefree.

The move hasn’t gone down well with everyone.

David Lammy, MP for Tottenham, wrote on Twitter: “Is this some kind of joke?! Why have you chosen chicken shops? What’s next, #KnifeFree watermelons?”

Music and culture journalist Nicolas Tyrell thinks the campaign is “insensitive” and “laced with racism”.

“I feel like this is quite a deliberate attempt to target a specific group of people – black people,” he said.

“I think the way in which they did it, they play on caricatures and stereotypes in terms of our group.

“This is not an exclusive problem for the black community.”

But what do customers in Croydon, the London borough with the highest number of chicken shops, make of this controversial government scheme to tackle knife crime?

‘Not all trouble starts here’

In a branch of Morley’s – a south London chicken shop franchise – customers were unconvinced that the scheme will work.

“It’s not going to change people’s frame of mind and it’s going to take a lot more than just putting a label on a chicken box,” said Alex, 28.

“Places like Morley’s aren’t fancy,” the care manager added. “It’s cheap, kids come here for chicken and chips and scraps start.

“But not all trouble starts at chicken shops.”

Image caption Care manager Alex sees the campaign as an “easy cop out”

Alex says claims the campaign is racist are “a bit extravagant” as chicken shops attract people of all races.

But he added: “To say that they are going to start putting anti-knife messages in a chicken box is an easy cop out.

“Knife crime isn’t just about chicken shops. That’s stupid. It’s about educating the kids to know better.”

Keith Venton, 47, popped in to Morley’s on his lunch break and said he was also unconvinced by the scheme.

He said: “I just can’t see it working. The young guys hang out in chicken shops so it’s an easy target. Most of them [involved in knife crime] are young guys.

“But this won’t go to the heart of it. If you look at it all together – knife crime, gangs, drugs – it’s all part of one bigger issue.

“They need to sort that out.”

‘Chicken shop grooming’

The scheme was announced just days after it was revealed criminal gangs are recruiting children to deal drugs with the offer of free food.

The tactic, dubbed “chicken shop grooming”, was highlighted in written evidence submitted to the Youth Select Committee as part of its investigation into knife crime.

Image copyright Home Office
Image caption The special boxes feature real life stories of young people

Home Secretary Priti Patel has defended the chicken box scheme and accused critics of “playing politics with knife crime”.

And Policing Minister Kit Malthouse maintains the 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”.

PR boss and podcast presenter Paul Nezandonyi also thinks the scheme will help tackle this issue.

“I welcome this campaign,” Mr Nezandonyi said.

“I don’t think it’s racist. Morley’s have evidence which shows gangs are recruiting young people in their shops, that they’re being groomed.”

He said it was good ministers were addressing the issue.

“But they haven’t explained the insights or data behind the move and that’s why it’s kicked off,” he added.

“I’m black myself and people do say racist things about black people eating chicken but I think [with this campaign] their intention is to target young people.”

At a branch of Chicken Cottage, another chain taking part in the campaign, mother-of-three Jackie Mudimi, from Streatham, was opposed to the boxes for a different reason.

Image caption The standard packaging will be replaced at shops across England and Wales

She said she was concerned about her children – aged 10, five and three – seeing and reading the stories.

“This doesn’t work for me,” she said.

“I’m trying to really protect them. I cannot have a meal with my kids and open a box and have them asking me questions about these sad stories.

“It’s not racist but the way they’ve done it – it’s not how to advertise it.

“It’s about education – it needs to go through schools, and the parents and the community.”

Chicken Cottage worker Theebi said he and his colleagues had not yet been told about the new scheme.

He said: “I haven’t heard about it but it might work.

“It might make people think twice.”

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