The acronym “ACAB” became prevalent across the United States and on social media in the wake of protests inspired by the death of George Floyd in May 2020. “ACAB” stands for “All Cops Are Bastards.” The related “1312” corresponds to the letters’ numbers in the alphabet: 1 = A. 3 = C. 1 = A. 2 = B.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, the slogan has been “long” associated with skinhead culture. The acronym is used by both racist and anti-racist activists. The ADL description says, “It should be carefully judged in the context in which it appears.” The acronym was used as a song title by the punk band 4 Skins in 1980.
One Definition Says That ACAB Doesn’t Mean That ‘Each Police Officer Is Nasty’
The 2007 book The Concise New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English lists the definition of the acronym as “All Coppers Are Bastards.” “Coppers” is a common English slang term for the police.
In response to the argument that “not all police are bad,” the Workers Solidarity Movement in Ireland posted a broader definition on their website. That definition explains:
ACAB doesn’t mean that each police officer as an individual person is nasty, sadistic, dishonest, and so on. It means that every police officer is bounded by their job as an agent of the state, and this necessarily causes cops to act like ‘bastards’ – whether or not they want to.
In Europe, Use of the Acronym Can Result in Legal Trouble
Many countries have taken strict legal action against the promotion of the acronym. In January 2011, three Dutch soccer fans were fined $372 each for wearing t-shirts with ACAB printed on them. In 2014, banners reading “ACAB” and “1312” that were displayed at soccer games in Germany were banned, although in 2015 a German court ruled that displaying the phrase “FCK CPS” was permissible under freedom of expression laws, reported Die Welt at the time.
In 2018, a Croatian man was fined $100 for posting ACAB on his Facebook page, reports Kaportal.
In Spain in 2016, a Spanish woman named Belen Lobeto was fined for carrying a bag displaying the acronym ACAB, reports El Pais. The bag also showed the words, “All Cats Are Beautiful.”
The Guardian reported in 2015 that fans of the Italian soccer team Livorno named their group “Visitors 1312.” 1312 was also the title of a 2020 nonfiction book by James Montague. The book studied the world of extremist soccer fans in Europe, known as Ultras. In Australia in 2015, a Liberal Democrat politician, David Leyonhjelm, was criticized by police officials in the New South Wales area of the country for his apparent support of soccer fans using the acronym.
A January 2018 Vice article described the acronym as being “sprayed on walls and etched into public toilet cubicles from Camden to Cairo.”