ACAB (1312) in Chile

A.C.A.B. (All Cops Are Bastards)[1] 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,[2] 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.[3]


The phrase "All Cops Are Bastards" first appeared in England in the 1920s,[4][5][6] then was abbreviated to "ACAB" by workers on strike in the 1940s.[6] The acronym is historically associated with criminals in the United Kingdom.[5] 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.[7][5] In 1970, the Daily Mirror ran the phrase as a headline, and wrote that it was borne by a Hells Angel on the street.[6] British director Sidney Hayers also used a censored version as the title of his 1972 crime drama All Coppers Are...[8] In 1977, a Newcastle journalist saw it written on the walls of a prison cell.[4]

During the 1980s, ACAB became a symbol of anti-Establishment, especially within the punk and skinhead subcultures.[5][6][9] It was popularized in particular by the 1982 song "A.C.A.B." by Oi! band The 4-Skins.[5][6] In later years, ACAB turned into a popular slogan among European football hooligans and ultras,[10][5] and among anarchist and anti-authoritarian movements across the world.[6]

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.[9][11]

A Montreal police car spray-painted with "ACAB" during the 2012 Quebec student protests

Prosecution history[]

ACAB graffiti in Naples

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.[12] 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.[13][14]

Anarchists protesting with a banner reading "ACAB, all cops are b..."

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).[15] 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".[16]

All Cats Are Beautiful

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".[17] In January 2011, three Ajax football fans in the Netherlands were fined for wearing T-shirts with the numbers 1312 printed on them.[18] 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.[19] 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".[20] The charges were dropped 3 days later.[21] 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.[22] 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.[23]

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.[24]

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."[25]

In popular culture[]

Munich in 2018

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.[26] 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.[32] 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.[32]

See also[]


  1. ^ Terry Victor; Tom Dalzell (2007). The Concise New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English. Routledge. p. 2. ISBN 978-1-134-61534-6.
  2. ^ Lopez, Steve. "Column: Go ahead, cut the police budget. But more important, remake the LAPD". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 26 June 2020.
  3. ^ Poulter, James (8 June 2020). "How 'ACAB' Became the Universal Anti-Police Slogan". Vice. Retrieved 11 September 2020.
  4. ^ a b Partridge, Eric (1986). A Dictionary of Catch Phrases. Taylor & Francis. p. 1. ISBN 978-0-415-05916-9.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Aitken-Smith, Trent; Tyson, Ashley (2016). The Tattoo Dictionary. Octopus. p. 13. ISBN 978-1-78472-254-8.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Groundwater, Colin (11 June 2020). "A brief history of ACAB". GQ. Retrieved 11 September 2020.
  7. ^ Thompson, Tim; Black, Sue (2006). Forensic Human Identification: An Introduction. Taylor & Francis. p. 384. ISBN 978-0-8493-3954-7.
  8. ^ Elliot, Paul (2014). Studying the British Crime Film. Columbia University Press. pp. 78–79. ISBN 978-1-906-73374-2.
  9. ^ a b "ACAB". Anti-Defamation League. Retrieved 30 May 2019.
  10. ^ Pollard, John (2016). "Skinhead culture: the ideologies, mythologies, religions and conspiracy theories of racist skinheads". Patterns of Prejudice. 50 (4–5): 398–419. doi:10.1080/0031322X.2016.1243349. ISSN 0031-322X.
  11. ^ Guerra, Nicola. "Dalla strada alla letteratura, le spericolate e propizie vicende del forestierismo A.C.A.B.. Il contatto linguistico tra italiano e inglese nelle sottoculture Skinhead e Ultras" [From the road to literature, the reckless and auspicious events of the forestry industry A.C.A.B .. The linguistic contact between Italian and English in the Skinhead and Ultras subcultures]. Analele Universităţii Din Craiova, Seria Ştiinţe Filologice Linguistică Nr. 1-2. Universităţii din Craiova. Retrieved 3 June 2020.
  12. ^ "German free speech: ACAB is A-OK, but A-hole is a no-no". Deutsche Welle. 21 July 2016.
  13. ^ "Constitutional Court allows 'FCK CPS' sticker". The Local. 28 April 2015. Retrieved 17 August 2016.
  14. ^ Federal Constitutional Court (28 April 2015). ""Kollektivbeleidigung" nur bei Bezug zu einer hinreichend überschaubaren und abgegrenzten Personengruppe" (Press release) (in German). Retrieved 25 February 2019.
  15. ^ ³ 1 Abs. 1 Z.1 WLSG.
  16. ^ "Verfassungsgerichtshof, E 5004/2018-11, Rz 22 ff" (PDF). 18 June 2019.
  17. ^ Stableford, Brian (2009). Exotic Encounters: Selected Reviews. Wildside Press LLC. p. 26. ISBN 978-1-434-45760-8.
  18. ^ "Football fans fined for anti-police t-shirt". DutchNews. 7 January 2011. Retrieved 17 August 2016.
  19. ^ "Multa de 600 euros en Alicante por llevar una camiseta que pone "ACAB"". Yo Me Tiro Al Monte. 4 July 2015. Retrieved 17 August 2016.
  20. ^ Hancock, Jaime Rubio (24 May 2016). "All Cats Are Beautiful or All Cops Are Bastards?". El País. Retrieved 26 May 2016.
  21. ^ "Madrid police drop action against woman with All Cats Are Beautiful bag". El País. 25 May 2016. Retrieved 26 May 2016.
  22. ^ "KARLOVČANIN DOBIO 100 EURA KAZNE JER JE NA FACEBOOKU NAPISAO ACAB Policija mladića koji nikad prije nije kažnjavan odmah prijavila prekršajnom sudu". jutarnji.hr (in Croatian). 24 January 2018. Retrieved 26 January 2018.
  23. ^ "На парня из Минска составили протокол об экстремизме за четыре цифры на майке" [Youngster from Minsk detained for extremism for four numbers on T-shirt]. TUT.by (in Russian). 11 June 2019.
  24. ^ Nurdin Saleh (21 February 2018). "Terkenal di Kalangan Jakmania, Apa Arti A.C.A.B. dan Rojali?" [Famous among Jakmania, What are the Meanings of A.C.A.B. and Rojali?] (in Indonesian). Tempo.co.
  25. ^ O'Connor, Meg (14 January 2021). "They Took Umbrellas to a Black Lives Matter Protest. The D.A. Hit Them with Gang Charges". The Appeal. Retrieved 13 February 2021.
  26. ^ Woodman, Gordon (2009). The Journal of Legal Pluralism and Unofficial Law 57/2008. LIT Verlag Münster. p. 53. ISBN 978-3-643-10157-0.
  27. ^ Ibrahim, Stefan (2 April 2014). "Ja, Panik – Libertatia". NBHAP.
  28. ^ Sebastian (19 March 2019). "The Incredible Herrengedeck – Molli & Korn / Die Armee der Zeigefinger – Ich kann hier absolut keinen Fehler erkennen".
  29. ^ Skinny (17 April 2015). "Planktonweed Tape". SpongeBozz. rap.de.
  30. ^ David Hugendick (30 November 2015). "Ich hab Kulturkritik". Zeit Online. Retrieved 3 December 2015.
  31. ^ Weissberg, Jay (26 February 2012). "ACAB: All Cops Are Bastards". Variety.
  32. ^ a b Poulter, James (8 June 2020). "How 'ACAB' Became the Universal Anti-Police Slogan". Vice. Retrieved 26 August 2020.

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