What’s the link between chick­en and knife crime?

As the government launches the controversial #KnifeFree campaign across London’s favourite fried chicken spots, The Face (and the general public) ask why.

Chick­en shops are a Lon­don sta­ple. Whether it’s Mor­leys in South, Sam’s in North or the trans-bor­ough Chick­en Cot­tage; whether it’s 4pm after school or 3am post-night out, noth­ing beats 4 spicy chick­en wings and some chips. Fact. In the face of glossy-new build flats and over­priced themed cafes, chick­en shops give a big mid­dle fin­ger up to gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, while play­ing an essen­tial role in the lives of inner-city kids, espe­cial­ly among black, Asian and minor­i­ty eth­nic communities.

So when the gov­ern­ment rolled out 321,000 #Knife­Free chick­en box­es this morn­ing, Twit­ter erupt­ed. All black with #knife­free print­ed across the top, the insides of the box shares real-life sto­ries” of young peo­ple who have stopped car­ry­ing knives and tak­en up hob­bies like music or boxing. 

Is this some kind of joke?! Why have you cho­sen chick­en shops? What’s next, #Knife­Free water­mel­ons?” David Lam­my Tweet­ed. I know it might cost a bit more time and effort, but I would love it if you would announce a pro­gram of invest­ment in our local com­mu­ni­ties instead of spend­ing 5minutes on a harm­ful gimmick.” 

It wasn’t long for oth­ers to start chirp­ing in, too. 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.” Labour MP Diane Abbott com­ment­ed, before argu­ing that police work­ing close­ly with schools, NHS, social ser­vices & the com­mu­ni­ty” would be a more effec­tive approach. 

The gov­ern­ment defend­ed their posi­tion, with polic­ing min­is­ter Kit Malt­house argu­ing These 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 safe.” Shan Sel­ven­dran, Morley’s man­ag­ing direc­tor added that: Morley’s are proud to sup­port the #Knife­Free cam­paign… We want to pro­mote being knife free by using cus­tom chick­en box­es to deliv­er the mes­sage and start con­ver­sa­tions amongst all our customers.” 

In many ways, it seems as if they’re defend­ing the inde­fen­si­ble – although, one jus­ti­fi­ca­tion seems to come in the form of recent­ly-pub­lished find­ings from the government’s Youth Select Com­mit­tee inves­ti­ga­tion into ris­ing lev­els of knife crime. 

Knife crime in Lon­don has reached unprece­dent­ed lev­els; as of two days ago, a 16-year-old boy being the lat­est vic­tim of the epi­dem­ic. This brings the num­ber of knife-relat­ed deaths since the start of 2019 to 87 – the high­est ever recorded. 

Find­ings from the Youth Select Com­mit­tee sug­gest­ed that Chick­en shop gangs” were once part of the prob­lem. These are often old­er men who groom chil­dren with the promise of free food, gifts or mon­ey in exchange for favours. While these favours’ might not include car­ry­ing a knife, children’s char­i­ties have warned that they do draw young peo­ple into a crim­i­nal lifestyle’. These same gangs have also been linked to the coun­ty lines net­work, where vul­ner­a­ble young peo­ple are groomed into car­ry­ing drugs into and out of London.

This so-called chick­en shop groom­ing” has been around since 2008, accord­ing to Natasha Chopra, pro­gramme man­ag­er of The Children’s Soci­ety. How­ev­er, the recent report high­light­ed how street gangs are increas­ing­ly prey­ing on school chil­dren who vis­it these fast food outlets. 

While videos and posters try­ing to edu­cate teens on this have been cir­cling for some time, (the most recent being Lon­don Grid for Learning’s There’s no such thing as free chick­en!” poster), the Youth Select Committee’s recent report has got the gov­ern­ment step­ping in.

So do these #Knife­Free box­es raise aware­ness or are they racist? 

Well, accord­ing to @rmd23_ who was post­ing under @GRMDaily they’re pret­ty fuck­ing racist…

These peo­ple also agreed…

@shabba_motiwa_ranks wasn’t so sure though…

One issue with the cam­paign (which cost £57,500), is that it just doesn’t do enough. While it may raise aware­ness among some vul­ner­a­ble young peo­ple, it doesn’t address any of the issues which have led to an increase in knife crime. While it’s true that it’s a com­pli­cat­ed prob­lem with a num­ber of dri­ving fac­tors – includ­ing pover­ty, expo­sure to domes­tic vio­lence, expul­sion from school – it’s also true that a cam­paign using brand­ed chick­en box­es is like putting a plas­ter over a great big crack in the wall. 

But if that’s how the gov­ern­ment want to play it, then – as Twit­ter user Paul Bernal point­ed out – maybe they need to expand their reach….

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