In a move so characteristic of Boris Johnson’s government that it could almost pass for satire, the Home Office has announced the distribution of “special #knifefree chicken boxes” in chicken shops all over England and Wales.
Let’s just sit with that for a moment. The government has chosen to promote a campaign to stop knife crime by taking up the marketing real estate on takeaway chicken boxes. And so a complex issue around crime, policing and society that ought to demand a careful and deep policy response is instead tackled by courting former Tory party voters who like their politics with a side of xenophobia and racism.
The Home Office, whose political masters for the last decade have lent it a reputation for the reactionary, will reason that this initiative comes after reports about chicken shop gang recruiters. Which, yes, is an environment where children have been targeted for grooming.
But overstating this link seems to ignore the significance of the … err… difficulties cabinet ministers have demonstrated in meaningfully engaging with non-white and disenfranchised groups across the UK.
I don’t know how many times these words have been typed out in the years since he wrote them for The Daily Telegraph, but our prime minister quite literally referred to black people as “piccaninnies”, and as having “watermelon smiles”.
Maybe he wishes he could stamp the #knifefree hashtag onto the rind of that fruit to be sent off to the likes of Morleys, Chicken Cottage and Dixy Chicken as a last-minute addition to the chicken boxes?
Why not? Everyone knows the key to preventing deaths, gang grooming, austerity, a ruthless welfare system, a lack of opportunities and housing, is through the stomachs of the youth. Especially the black ones.
If we can’t get them through ramping up stop and search, or shipping them off to prison for longer, chicken – fried chicken – will save the day.
That’s not all though. The ridiculous move will also see #knifefree street teams barging into the assumed regular haunts of British black and brown folk – i.e. “convenience stores, hair salons and barber shops as well as places of worship and community centres across London, Manchester and Birmingham”.
It won’t be the likes of Priti “I want them to literally feel terror” Patel or Kit Malthouse, the policing minister, attempting to feign interest in saving the youth from themselves, however.
The street teams will be “made up of people who are trained to speak to local communities about the campaign and on the risks of carrying a knife,'' which would be comforting if the department tasked with dreaming up these teams had enough common sense to have done away with the chicken shop drive in the first place, let alone attempt to sell the prime minister’s hard-right criminal justice policy as part of that initiative.
Working with the businesses and other locations that young people frequent in a bid to reduce stabbings isn’t in itself a terrible idea. But when the people doing that have just trumpeted the prospect of more discriminatory stop and search practices in the same breath, they’re demonstrating how ill-equipped the government is when it comes to these issues.
Printing motivational words about picking up boxing gloves and dropping knives, or taking up the mic instead of a criminal career in drug dealing, is, in my view, painfully weak – but it’s not the biggest issue here.
What is really worrying is that no one had the foresight to rethink a campaign that flirts with racist stereotypes about black people. It leaves the nagging impression that churning out ridiculous “efforts” like these will be just enough to pacify Brexit Party sympathisers with exaggerated anxieties about stabbings and wayward “inner city youth”.
And so the logic seems to be: Let the people we really care about – Tory defectors – think we’re doing all we can to protect them from the underclasses by using these “special chicken boxes”. It screams of electoral gamesmanship, and nothing else.
All the while, those who actually need the government to pull its finger out, the young people whose lives will be affected by the consequences of continued inaction, have nothing but the promise of basketball, (which, unbeknownst to the home office it seems, is severely underfunded in the UK) or “acting” as a solution to an issue the government will just exploit for votes ahead of the next general election anyway.
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