Misconceptions regarding ACAB and policing in America

By: Olivia Knafla

Image taken from: Twitter user ‘Antifa_Ultras’

A term that you may have heard, or seen circulating around social media lately, is “ACAB.” In fact, this summer, the term hit a spike of popularity in regards to Google searches about it. But with so many more people interested (and critical), there are bound to be some misconceptions, or even simple questions, about what it means, and hopefully I can help use what I know, and have learned, to help clear those up in this article.

Image taken from: a Google Trends search of ‘ACAB’ over the past year as of October 2020.

Does ACAB mean all cops are bad?

No. In reality, it means ‘All Cops are Bast***s’, meaning that they are bastardized by the position of power that they are put in, and that the policing system in America is inherently corrupt.

It also means that choosing to become a police officer, and to support the system, makes that person complicit. So, while not meaning that each individual officer is a bad person, it does mean that they are still supporting a system that has historically oppressed people of color.

Why do people say that the police force was built upon racism?

The answer to this question is simple – because it was. According to ‘Mapping Police Violence,’ the beginning of policing in America dates back to times of slavery in the 17th and 18th centuries. Mostly (but not limited to) the South of the United States, created what was dubbed as the “Night Watch,” groups of white people whose job was to track down runaway enslaved individuals and return them to their slave owners. These people would also enforce laws that furthered discrimation against black people. At the time, the job of these Night Watchers was comparable to bounty hunting, and sheriffs would oftentimes go as far as torturing the enslaved people who they captured. 

In the Reconstruction era, the police force helped Southerners in ex-Confederate states to keep the power that they had, as people would use the police force to ensure that white Americans could maintain their rights while at the same time creating what is known as “Black Codes” and vagrancy laws, which would allow police the arrest freed black Americans for small, and even non-existent, crimes. While they were no longer “Night watchers,” they were now slave catchers, who would later reform into the police that we know today. This allowed former slave owners to legally re-enslave any black person by “catching them” for a crime that is either minimal or non existent. 

Image taken from: medium.com.

Even today, ‘Mapping Police Violence’ shows that black people are 3 times more likely to be killed by police than white people are. To be more specific, while the white police homicide rate is 2.5, the PHR for is 3.8 for hispanic people and 6.6 for black people. Even when looking at unarmed killings, black people are still 1.3 times more likely to be killed by police than a white person is. 

What do people mean when they say they want to defund or abolish the police?

Firstly, it should be noted that defunding and abolishing the police are two very different things. According to Brookings.edu, defunding the police means, “reallocating or redirecting funding away from the police department to other government agencies funded by the local municipality.” 

The act of defunding the police has some potential benefits which can reduce both police violence and crime, focusing on de-escalation of what could otherwise turn violent, as well as an entirely new approach for non-violent calls to 911. In short, the act of defunding the police and reallocating some, not all, of their funding to serve the community could result in less violence and killings by police officers.

Abolishing the police is different from defunding the police. A statement from MPD150’s, a group from Minneapolis in favor of police abolition, Arriana Nason said in a statement: “We’re not abolishing help. We’re abolishing police. That’s very different. We have to do the work to imagine something different and to listen to what people in different neighborhoods and communities want.”

The idea behind police abolition is that access to well-paying jobs, affordable housing, healthy food, education, and health care is the way to combat police issues, all while taking steps towards a police free future. As of right now, a police free future is unlikely to be something that happens in the short term, but it is possible that some of these ideas may be tested soon in Minneapolis after a city council vote to dissolve the city’s police department resulted in a veto-proof supermajority.

How can I learn more and educate myself?

Something as simple as a Google search will get you lots of information, just be sure that the information you are reading is unbiased and reliable. There is much more to know about ACAB and the history of policing in America than what is stated in this article, so I would definitely urge you to look into it yourself if you feel so inclined.

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