The term ACAB is an acronym for the phrase “All Cops Are Bastards.” (You may also have seen it as 1312: 1 = A, 2 = B, 3 = C) This does not mean that each individual cop is a bastard, but instead refers to the word “bastardize”– the specific definition (out of the many) being “to corrupt.” They are corrupted by the system they work for. Therefore ACAB = All Cops Are Corrupt Because They Choose to Work For A Corrupt System.
In other words, the argument is that police officers aren’t bad, but the police system is, and it needs to be fixed. Three major problems are:
- Cops often turn a blind eye when other officers act out of line, known as the “Blue Wall of Silence.”
- There is a lack of consequences for cops who intentionally harm innocent people.
- Police Unions give cops rights that other citizens do not receive.
This raises a series of questions: Each cop might not be a bad person, but what are they doing to change the system? Should we support them if they do nothing? What needs to be done? How can we create change? These are the questions ACAB pushes people to ask.
That’s the deeper meaning– but is that the meaning ACAB conveys? In short, no. The many jumps are: Bastard ➝ Bastardize ➝ Corrupt ➝ Corrupt System ➝ What’s the solution?
There are too many leaps that need to be made in order to get the correct meaning across, and it’s been polarizing the US by giving the police a bad name. The goal is a good one– to create change– but the phrase is too misleading to push people towards the right course of action. (Besides, if you have to defend your slogan by saying “A refers to B, meaning C referring to D”… then it’s not a very good slogan, is it?)
I want to be clear: I do not stand behind saying “all cops are bastards.” I do, however, stand behind the meaning, which is that the policing system is corrupt and needs to be changed. Here’s ACAB’s bottom line: it’s a bad slogan. A really bad, misleading one, which focuses on individual cops rather than the whole policing structure. Since I don’t believe in rejecting something without offering a solution, here’s my alternate: “TSIC – The System Is Corrupt.” No jumps, no misdirections, no distractions by focusing on the officer rather than the real problem. Write that on your sign for your next protest, will you? Focus on the policing machine, not the police officer.