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ACAB (1312) sprayed during the 2019–2021 Chilean protests

ACAB, or "all cops are bastards", is a political slogan associated with those opposed to the police. It is typically written as a catchphrase in graffiti, tattoos or other imagery in public spaces, including online spaces. It is sometimes numerically rendered as "1312", representing the position of the letters in the English alphabet.


The phrase "all coppers are bastards" first appeared in England in the 1920s,[1][2][3] then was abbreviated to "ACAB" by workers on strike in the 1940s.[3] The acronym is historically associated with criminals in the United Kingdom.[2] First reported as a prison tattoo in the 1970s, it is commonly rendered as one letter per finger, or sometimes disguised as a small dot across each knuckle.[4][2] In 1970, the Daily Mirror ran the phrase as a headline, and wrote that it was borne by a Hells Angel on the street.[3] British director Sidney Hayers also used a censored version as the title of his 1972 crime drama All Coppers Are....[5] In 1977, a Newcastle journalist saw it written on the walls of a prison cell.[1]

During the 1980s, ACAB became an anti-establishment symbol, especially within the punk and skinhead subcultures.[2][3][6] It was popularized in particular by the 1982 song "A.C.A.B." by Oi! band the 4-Skins.[2][3] In later years, ACAB turned into a popular slogan among European football hooligans and ultras,[7][2] and among anarchist and anti-authoritarian movements across the world.[3] 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.[6][8]

ACAB acronym on a Black Lives Matter placard, 2020

In the wake of the May 2020 murder of George Floyd by the police officer Derek Chauvin, the use of the term ACAB became more frequently used by those who oppose the police.[9] As protests in response to Floyd's murder and discussions about racially-motivated police violence spread through the United States, ACAB was more frequently referenced on social media and products bearing the acronym became available.[9] Proponents of the term contended that ACAB means every single police officer is complicit in an unjust system. They argued that police officers, even if they did not take part in police brutality or racism in policing themselves, were still responsible for what their colleagues did because they did not speak out against it or try to stop it.[10]

Prosecution history[edit]

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

In Germany, usage of the term is a criminal offense when it refers to a single person. It is permitted when used to describe a large group of people.[11] Both "ACAB" 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.[12][13]

In Austria, the use of ACAB 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).[14] In 2019, the Austrian Constitutional Court (VfGH) ruled that treating 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 ACAB 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".[15]

ACAB street art in Barcelona, 2022

In other European countries, there are examples of police action toward people using ACAB in some fashion. Brian Stableford's 2009 Exotic Encounters states that "many years ago" during a fad for wearing ACAB shirts, a British youth was arrested for incitement to riot for wearing one, and ineffectively claimed the shirt stood for "All Canadians Are Bastards".[16] In January 2011, three Ajax football fans in the Netherlands were fined for wearing T-shirts with the numbers 1312 printed on them.[17] On 4 July 2015, a woman in Alicante, Spain, was fined for wearing a T-shirt with the acronym "A.C.A.B." printed on it.[18] 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".[19] The charges were dropped 3 days later.[20] 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.[21] On 4 April 2019, a 26-year-old ice hockey fan was arrested for wearing a T-shirt that had a numeric version of ACAB, 1312. "A.C.A.B." and 1312 are both considered "extremist information" in Belarus.[22]

Prosecution on the grounds of ACAB being offensive is not limited to Europe. 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.[23]

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."[24] Criminal charges against the protestors were dropped and a probe characterized the case as "deeply flawed", "insubstantial", and lacking credible evidence in support of the claim that "ACAB" is a gang.[25]

In popular culture[edit]

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 elsewhere in music:

  • Austrian band Ja, Panik [de] 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"[27]
  • German punk band Slime released the song A.C.A.B. on their influential 1979 album Slime I; it, along with the band's other anti-police songs "are still anthems of the leftist movement" to this day.[28]
  • German band The Incredible Herrengedeck [de] in the lyrics of the song "Angst vor Punk"[29]
  • German rapper Sun Diego [de] in the song "A.C.A.B." on the album Planktonweedtape (2015); in the song "A.C.A.B. II" on the album Krabbenkoke Tape/SftB (2017); and in the song "A.C.A.B. III" on the EP Planktonweed EP (2022)[30]
  • German satirist Jan Böhmermann with his song "Ich hab Polizei" (2015),[31] but negating it by adding an N in front.[32]
  • American band the Casualties in their song "1312", the lead single from their 2018 album Written in Blood.[33]

The 2012 Italian drama film ACAB – All Cops Are Bastards follows the work of a group of riot control force policemen and tensions within the community.[34]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Partridge, Eric (1986). A Dictionary of Catch Phrases. Taylor & Francis. p. 1. ISBN 978-0-415-05916-9.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Aitken-Smith, Trent; Tyson, Ashley (2016). The Tattoo Dictionary. Octopus. p. 13. ISBN 978-1-78472-254-8.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Groundwater, Colin (11 June 2020). "A brief history of ACAB". GQ. Retrieved 11 September 2020.
  4. ^ Thompson, Tim; Black, Sue (2006). Forensic Human Identification: An Introduction. Taylor & Francis. p. 384. ISBN 978-0-8493-3954-7.
  5. ^ Elliot, Paul (2014). Studying the British Crime Film. Columbia University Press. pp. 78–79. ISBN 978-1-906-73374-2.
  6. ^ a b "ACAB". Anti-Defamation League. Retrieved 30 May 2019.
  7. ^ 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. S2CID 151502563.
  8. ^ Guerra, Nicola (January 2013). "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. ^ a b Poulter, James (8 June 2020). "How 'ACAB' Became the Universal Anti-Police Slogan". Vice. Retrieved 26 August 2020.
  10. ^ "What I mean when I say I want to abolish the police". The Independent. 1 June 2020. Archived from the original on 2 June 2020. Retrieved 17 December 2021.
  11. ^ "German free speech: ACAB is A-OK, but A-hole is a no-no". Deutsche Welle. 21 July 2016.
  12. ^ "Constitutional Court allows 'FCK CPS' sticker". The Local. 28 April 2015. Retrieved 17 August 2016.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ ³ 1 Abs. 1 Z.1 WLSG.
  15. ^ "Verfassungsgerichtshof, E 5004/2018-11, Rz 22 ff" (PDF). 18 June 2019.
  16. ^ Stableford, Brian (2009). Exotic Encounters: Selected Reviews. Wildside Press LLC. p. 26. ISBN 978-1-434-45760-8.
  17. ^ "Football fans fined for anti-police t-shirt". DutchNews. 7 January 2011. Retrieved 17 August 2016.
  18. ^ "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.
  19. ^ Hancock, Jaime Rubio (24 May 2016). "All Cats Are Beautiful or All Cops Are Bastards?". El País. Retrieved 26 May 2016.
  20. ^ "Madrid police drop action against woman with All Cats Are Beautiful bag". El País. 25 May 2016. Retrieved 26 May 2016.
  21. ^ "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.
  22. ^ "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. Archived from the original on 11 June 2019. Retrieved 12 June 2019.
  23. ^ 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.
  24. ^ 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.
  25. ^ Kelety, Josh (12 August 2021). "Probe Finds Phoenix Police Lacked 'Credible' Evidence in Protester Gang Case". Phoenix New Times. Retrieved 5 July 2022.
  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. ^ Mecking, Sabine; Wasserloos, Yvonne (2012). Musik, Macht, Staat: Kulturelle, soziale und politische Wandlungsprozesse in der Moderne (in German). V&R unipress GmbH. ISBN 9783899718720. Ihre zahlreiche Anti-Polizeisongs sind bis heute Hymnen der linken Bewegung, die Refrains oft Schlachtrufe, so etwa A.C.A.B. - All cops are bastards.
  29. ^ Sebastian (19 March 2019). "The Incredible Herrengedeck – Molli & Korn / Die Armee der Zeigefinger – Ich kann hier absolut keinen Fehler erkennen".
  30. ^ Skinny (17 April 2015). "Planktonweed Tape". SpongeBozz. rap.de.
  31. ^ David Hugendick (30 November 2015). "Ich hab Kulturkritik". Zeit Online (in German). Retrieved 3 December 2015.
  32. ^ POL1Z1STENS0HN a.k.a. Jan Böhmermann - Ich hab Polizei (Official Video) | NEO MAGAZIN ROYALE ZDFneo. youtube.com (Music video) (in German). YouTube. 26 November 2015. Seen in the video at 1m:42s. Retrieved 13 October 2021.
  33. ^ DiVita, Joe (18 September 2018). "The Casualties Debut New Singer in '1312' Video, Announce Album". Loudwire.
  34. ^ Weissberg, Jay (26 February 2012). "ACAB: All Cops Are Bastards". Variety.

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