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ACAB (1312) in Chile

A.C.A.B. is an acronym meaning "All Cops Are Bastards".[1] It is used as a slogan and written catchphrase in graffiti, tattoos and other imagery. It is sometimes numerically rendered as "1312", after the alphabetical order of the letters. The slogan is associated with self-proclaimed dissidents subjected to political persecution and police brutality.

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]


Director Sidney Hayers used the phrase as the title of his 1972 crime drama All Coppers Are... and the Dictionary of Catchphrases states that while the initialism—later seen in 1977 by a Newcastle journalist written on the walls of a prison cell—may be no older than the 1970s, the full phrase may date back as far as the 1920s.[3][4]

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

The acronym is often integrated into prison tattoos in the United Kingdom, commonly rendered as one letter per finger, alternatively sometimes seen as symbolic small dots across each knuckle.[5]

In Germany, usage of the term is a criminal offense when it refers to the honor of an individual, however, when used to describe a large group of people, it is permitted.[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.[7][8]

Prosecution history

ACAB graffiti in Naples

In Germany 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.[9][10]

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).[11] 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".[12]

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".[13] In January 2011, three Ajax football fans in the Netherlands were fined for wearing T-shirts with the numbers 1312 printed on them.[14] 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.[15] 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".[16] The charges were dropped 3 days later.[17] 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.[18] 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.[19]

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.[20]

Other meanings

CHWDP graffiti

In punk, skinhead, and football culture there is the use of the term "eight cola eight beer" (German: 8 ColaBier). In addition, there is an antisemitic variant used by neo-Nazis: A.J.A.B. (All Jews are Bastards).[21] There is also an anarchist variant, "Anarchist Chaotics Argue Better".[22]

Similar phrases are used in various languages, though many still use the A.C.A.B. acronym.[23]

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.[24] The term has also been used by the:

  • Austrian band Ja, Panik released on their album Libertatia (2014) a song with the title A.C.A.B., in which the acronym is interpreted as All Cats Are Beautiful [25]
  • German band The Incredible Herrengedeck [de] in the lyrics of the song Angst vor Punk[26]
  • German rapper Sun Diego [de] in the song A.C.A.B. on the album Planktonweedtape (2015); and in the song A.C.A.B. II on the album Krabbenkoke Tape/SftB (2017)[27]
  • German satirist Jan Böhmermann with his song Ich hab Polizei (2015)[28]

Used in film:

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". LA Times. Retrieved 26 June 2020.
  3. ^ Elliot, Paul (2014). Studying the British Crime Film. Columbia University Press. pp. 78–79. ISBN 978-1-906-73374-2.
  4. ^ Partridge, Eric (1986). A Dictionary of Catch Phrases. Taylor & Francis. p. 1. ISBN 978-0-415-05916-9.
  5. ^ Thompson, Tim; Black, Sue (2006). Forensic Human Identification: An Introduction. Taylor & Francis. p. 384. ISBN 978-0-8493-3954-7.
  6. ^ "German free speech: ACAB is A-OK, but A-hole is a no-no". Deutsche Welle. 21 July 2016.
  7. ^ "ACAB". Anti-Defamation League. Retrieved 30 May 2019.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ "Constitutional Court allows 'FCK CPS' sticker". The Local. 28 April 2015. Retrieved 17 August 2016.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ ³ 1 Abs. 1 Z.1 WLSG.
  12. ^ "Verfassungsgerichtshof, E 5004/2018-11, Rz 22 ff" (PDF). 18 June 2019.
  13. ^ Stableford, Brian (2009). Exotic Encounters: Selected Reviews. Wildside Press LLC. p. 26. ISBN 978-1-434-45760-8.
  14. ^ "Football fans fined for anti-police t-shirt". DutchNews. 7 January 2011. Retrieved 17 August 2016.
  15. ^ "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.
  16. ^ Hancock, Jaime Rubio (24 May 2016). "All Cats Are Beautiful or All Cops Are Bastards?". El País. Retrieved 26 May 2016.
  17. ^ "Madrid police drop action against woman with All Cats Are Beautiful bag". El País. 25 May 2016. Retrieved 26 May 2016.
  18. ^ "KARLOVČANIN DOBIO 100 EURA KAZNE JER JE NA FACEBOOKU NAPISAO ACAB Policija mladića koji nikad prije nije kažnjavan odmah prijavila prekršajnom sudu". (in Croatian). 24 January 2018. Retrieved 26 January 2018.
  19. ^ "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]. (in Russian). 11 June 2019.
  20. ^ 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).
  21. ^ Kai Von Appen (4 November 2013). ""A.C.A.B" beleidigt Polizistin: Vorsicht, Kopfschutz!" ["A.C.A.B." insults police officer: Caution, head protection!]. Die Tageszeitung. Retrieved 6 September 2015.
  22. ^ "Vorsicht: cop-ACAB-ana ist in Regensburg strafbar" [Caution: cop-ACAB-ana is punishable in Regensburg]. Regensburg Digital. 25 January 2012. Retrieved 27 February 2016.
  23. ^ Cameron, Deborah; Panovic, Ivan (2014). Working with Written Discourse. SAGE. p. 142. ISBN 9781473904361.
  24. ^ Woodman, Gordon (2009). The Journal of Legal Pluralism and Unofficial Law 57/2008. LIT Verlag Münster. p. 53. ISBN 978-3-643-10157-0.
  25. ^ Ibrahim, Stefan (2 April 2014). "Ja, Panik – Libertatia". NBHAP.
  26. ^ Sebastian (19 March 2019). "The Incredible Herrengedeck – Molli & Korn / Die Armee der Zeigefinger – Ich kann hier absolut keinen Fehler erkennen".
  27. ^ Skinny (17 April 2015). "Planktonweed Tape". SpongeBozz.
  28. ^ David Hugendick (30 November 2015). "Ich hab Kulturkritik". Zeit Online. Retrieved 3 December 2015.
  29. ^ Weissberg, Jay (26 February 2012). "ACAB: All Cops Are Bastards". Variety.

External links