Op-Ed: Why I Say ‘ACAB’

A protestor holds an ‘ACAB’ sign. (Photo courtesy of GQ and Getty Images.)

What does ACAB even mean?

ACAB is an acronym for “all cops are bastards,” contrary to the belief that it stands for “all cops are bad.” The term “bastard” according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary means “an offensive or disagreeable person–used as a generalized term of abuse.” The word “bastardize” itself means “to corrupt.” With this denotation in mind, ACAB points out that the law enforcement system is corrupt, and therefore those working for it choose to be a part of a corrupt system, whether or not they personally uphold themselves to other morals.

It is easily agreed that policemen murdering innocent black people are a direct part of the problem and are quite frankly not good people. It is also easily agreed that a policeman can be a good person, not committing murder himself. However, choosing to work in such a profession that upholds systemic oppression against black, Indigenous, POC communities and allowing injustices to occur at the hands of his colleagues for the sake of fraternity is complicit behavior. Complacency with injustice is unacceptable.

Don’t the police protect us?

The police system in America originated from a place that did not have the civilian’s welfare in mind. In the northeast of America, where police came from, cops were untrained patrollers who oversaw and monitored trade and transport. Modern day policing, however, stems from the south, where police were systematically instituted during times of slavery. The Zocalo Public Square in Times Magazine explains, “[D]uring reconstruction, many local sheriffs functioned in a way analogous to the earlier slave patrols, enforcing segregation and the disenfranchisement of freed slaves.” Even after the Civil War, policemen mirrored these ideals as they continued to enforce racism. Our officers today work for a system that comes from an outdated, broken, and unjust incentive that they must work to stop the black man gaining freedom from the white man. It is built for white comfort and black failure and therefore requires a reform effective as soon as possible. Despite many officers saving lives and doing amazing work, it is impossible to ignore the history and corruption (that is still prevalent in the brutalization of black people today) within the profession.

Isn’t ACAB hateful and misleading?

Not if you know the meaning. Let’s put it into perspective.

We say “black lives matter” not to disregard the struggles of other ethnicities, but to acknowledge that black people are less privileged and suffer from a justice system that was built against them. Historically, black people in America have been enslaved, brutalized, antagonized, and marginalized. In saying “all lives matter,” you undermine the struggles of the black community who have fought to overcome racial barriers yet still face oppression in the modern era. 

Likewise, when you say “some cops are good,” you are forgetting the pain and suffering black people have faced at the hands of the police. Your positive experiences with police are valid, but the system they work for has perpetuated 3x more black deaths in relation to white deaths. Saying ACAB is holding the police accountable for the system they enforce, not saying that all policemen are personally bad people.

At its core, ACAB is a movement that encourages accountability for the irrefutable role they play in enforcing systemic oppression and the upholding of white supremacy, not only historically, but also today. It is no coincidence that 98.3% of police killings have not been charged from 2013-2020 nor is it a coincidence that there were only 14 days this year in which nobody has been killed by police officers. Policemen are given access to lethal weapons and are unqualified to handle innumerable situations. We need training and defunding. The term is meant to elicit a conversation to establish reforms to the system–not to spread hatred and blame all officers individually. According to Gagliardo Silver of New York, “The issue isn’t ‘a few bad apples’; it’s a tree that is rotting from the inside out, spreading its poison.”

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