A.C.A.B. (All Cops Are Bastards) is an acronym used as a political slogan associated with dissidents who are opposed to the police. It is typically written as a catchphrase in graffiti, tattoos or other imagery in public spaces. It is sometimes numerically rendered as "1312," representing the ordering of the letters in the English alphabet.
Critics of this term contend that the linguistic nature of this term inherently attacks police officers as individuals and believe other terms should be used in its place to support police reform, while some proponents of the term say the intent refers to the police as an institution and does not necessarily reflect upon the individual law enforcement officer.
The phrase "All Cops Are Bastards" first appeared in England in the 1920s, then was abbreviated to "ACAB" by workers on strike in the 1940s. The acronym is historically associated with criminals in the United Kingdom. First reported as a prison tattoo in the 1970s, it is commonly rendered as one letter per finger, or sometimes disguised as symbolic small dots across each knuckle. In 1970, the Daily Mirror ran the phrase as a headline, and wrote that it was borne by a Hells Angel on the street. British director Sidney Hayers also used a censored version as the title of his 1972 crime drama All Coppers Are... In 1977, a Newcastle journalist saw it written on the walls of a prison cell.
During the 1980s, ACAB became a symbol of anti-Establishment, especially within the punk and skinhead subcultures. It was popularized in particular by the 1982 song "A.C.A.B." by Oi! band The 4-Skins. In later years, ACAB turned into a popular slogan among European football hooligans and ultras, and among anarchist and anti-authoritarian movements across the world.
In certain contexts, the Anti-Defamation League categorizes the phrase as a hate symbol and describes it as "a slogan of long standing in the skinhead culture", while noting the phrase is used both by racist and anti-racist skinheads.
In Germany, usage of the term is a criminal offense when it refers to the honor of an individual; however, it is permitted when used to describe a large group of people. Both "A.C.A.B." and "1312" have been deemed insults by state courts. In 2015, the Federal Constitutional Court ruled in reference to the term "FCK CPS" (read as Fuck Cops) that an insult is only punishable when it is directed at a specific, identifiable group, but left interpretation of individual cases to the criminal courts.
In Austria the use of A.C.A.B. was seen as "violating public decency", which could be punished under administrative law, for example, using an administrative penal order. The fine could be up to 700 euros (or alternatively a week police detention). In 2019, the Austrian Constitutional Court (VfGH) ruled that punishing the slogan as a violation of decency, in certain cases, violates the fundamental right to freedom of expression under Article 10 ECHR. The specific case involved a soccer fan who had waved an A.C.A.B. flag in the stadium. According to the VfGH, the banner should "primarily refer to the tense relationship between some football fans and the police and to express the negative attitude towards the police as part of the state's regulatory power" and should therefore "not be a concrete 'insult' to certain other people". Therefore, the criticism expressed "should be accepted with a view to the special meaning and function of freedom of expression in a democratic society, taking into account all circumstances of the case".
In other European countries, there are examples of police action towards people using A.C.A.B. in some fashion. Brian Stableford's 2009 Exotic Encounters states that "many years ago" during a fad for wearing A.C.A.B. shirts, a British youth was arrested for incitement to riot for wearing one, and ineffectively claimed the shirt stood for "All Canadians Are Bastards". In January 2011, three Ajax football fans in the Netherlands were fined for wearing T-shirts with the numbers 1312 printed on them. On 4 July 2015, a girl in Alicante, Spain, was fined for wearing a T-shirt with the acronym "A.C.A.B." printed on it. On 22 May 2016, a 34-year-old woman in Madrid, Spain, was charged under Article 37 of the Citizen Safety Law for carrying a bag displaying the acronym "A.C.A.B." accompanied by the words "All Cats Are Beautiful". The charges were dropped 3 days later. On 15 September 2017, a man from Karlovac, Croatia posted a photomontage with the message "Fuck da Police A.C.A.B." from his Facebook profile. For this, he was later charged with violating the public order and fined €100 by the Misdemeanor Court in Karlovac. On 4 April 2019, a 26-year-old ice hockey fan was arrested for wearing a T-shirt that had a numeric version of "A.C.A.B.", 1312. "A.C.A.B." and 1312 are both considered "extremist information" in Belarus.
However, this is not just a European phenomenon. In 2018, a group of Persija Jakarta football fans in Indonesia were arrested for displaying a banner with the message "All Cops Are Bastards" on it during the league match day.
Following a 2020 Black Lives Matter protest in Phoenix, Arizona, United States, 15 protesters were charged with assisting a criminal street gang for using the phrase "all cops are bastards" while wearing black clothes and carrying umbrellas. The police officers who arrested them said the protesters were members of "a group known as ACAB All Cops Are Bastards."
The abbreviation was often used musically in the 1980s. The 4-Skins, a British Oi! punk band, popularized the initialism A.C.A.B. in their 1980s song of the same name. The term has also been used by:
Used in film:
In the wake of the May 2020 murder of George Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin, the use of the term A.C.A.B. became more frequently used by those who oppose the police. As protests in response to Floyd's death and discussions about racially-motivated police violence spread through the United States, A.C.A.B. was more frequently referenced on social media and products bearing the acronym became available.