ACAB. 1312. A paradox of a phrase. A phrase utilized to empower those protesting in wake of police brutality to reject a system that has lead to the death of thousands of people. A phrase to reject a viewed system of hate. A phrase likewise denoted by the Anti-defamation league as a hate symbol. A phase used in dozens of different languages- stenciled on to posters, spray-painted onto walls, and tattooed onto fingers.
The phrase ACAB, once used uniquely by the anarchist movement, has gained more and more popularity (and notoriety to boot) after the death of George Floyd and the powerful protests that followed.
ACAB (All Cops are Bastards) has gained plenty of debate over its meaning, its implications, and its intent. Those against the phrase range from ardent cop supporters to even those protesting police brutality. The main discussion over the phrase comes from the implication of ‘all’. Surely, ALL cops aren’t bastards. There are good cops who work hard at their job and for us and its hardly fair to group them in with the bad cops. After we all know interrogations require good cops and bad cops, so it can’t be that ALL cops are bastards. Maybe just a few. In fact (this is the big AHA) you’re discriminating against cops!
The large part of the debate comes from the inherent misunderstanding. The phrase isn’t Every Person Who Has the Job of A Cop is Deep Down an Evil Terrible Jerk. I don’t even think that would fit on a poster! It’s not attacking the individual, its attacking the role they play as a cop.
In order to put this in context think of Bloody Sunday in 1965, when civil rights protesters tried to cross a bridge only to get teargassed and bloodied and beat.
Let’s look at this picture purely from an objective view point. We can see that the protestors are on the ground and the cops above wield their batons and wear a gas masks (neither of which the protester has). There is an obvious use of force. And if I was to go beyond the picture, I would know that this had been a peaceful demonstration prior to police intervention.
What ACAB states isn’t that the individuals who are cops are inherently bad; instead its stating that in order to effectively fill the role of a cop one must be unscrupulous. That’s because ultimately the cops are gatekeepers of the status quo. The job of a cop is to defend the present law, not actually the people. And when someone challenges the status quo, its their job to keep them in check.
To me, ACAB is about calling out a system based on stagnation. Cops aren’t born bad people, but instead the role of a cop puts them in a position where they are forced to stand opposite to progress. That’s why ACAB is at the center of the current BLM movement. Because what BLM is fighting for is change, challenging the current system, and the police system stands directing across from it. Not to mention that the entire justice system has many serious flaws that instead of imagining the circumstances surrounding crime- limited job opportunities, inability to attain higher education, family situations- we choose to brand them with a different ACAB, All Criminals Are Bastards.
But its impossible to change the status quo without bending the systems that keep us stagnant. Just as it was impossible to fight for voting rights without breaking the disenfranchisement laws police were sworn to protect. Just as it was impossible to dismantle segregation without breaking the Jim Crow Laws police were sworn to protect. Just as it was impossible to escape slavery, steal ones own body, without breaking the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 the police were entirely created to protect. The history of revolution has always been a conflict between progress and the police, in whichever form they may have existed. Police are sworn to protect our status quo, not the people and the progress they may advocate for. That’s the way the system was built. That’s the way the system exists. That’s why the call for change has become ACAB