Health officials in Philadelphia this week yanked public service advertisements urging HIV testing after a gay advocacy group expressed concerns about images depicting young black men in a gun’s cross hairs.

“Putting the face of a black man in the cross hairs of a gun paints a damaging message about violence and black men,” Lee Carson, chairman of the Black Gay Men’s Leadership Council, wrote in a letter to the city’s interim health commissioner last month.

According to The Associated Press, the $236,000 campaign, which ended abruptly on Monday, was geared at gay and bisexual men and featured the tagline, “Have YOU been hit?”

“Given the violence perpetrated against gay men, it is not farfetched to see how this campaign fosters violence,” Mr Carson wrote to interim Health Commissioner Carmen Paris.

Ms Paris told the AP that she “inherited” the campaign and only recently saw the ads. She added, “The right thing to do, of course, is not to promote any message that could be perceived as promoting violence.”

The AP reports that the campaign was launched last May with ads on buses, television, postcards and a Web site. The ads were no longer posted on the Web site on Tuesday.

Zigzag Net Inc, the Philadelphia-based marketing company that developed the campaign, told the AP that they spent months setting up two focus groups to evaluate the most effective themes.

“We are aware of objections to the campaign,” project manager Aaron McLean said to the AP. “However, we acted under the explicit direction of the city Health Department. The response in the focus groups was very positive.”

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