ACAB, a revolutionary primer
“Do you believe that Samantha?” my mother asked, pointing to the screen.
“Yes” I replied,
She shook her head.
On the T.V. played a video of a woman holding an “ACAB” sign at a Black Lives Matter demonstration.
All Cops are Bastards.
“...not all cops….”
Yes, All Cops are Bastards. All cops participate in an unjust criminal justice system diametrically opposed to accountability. Even your father. Even your uncle. Every cop is a bastard even if they never shot an innocent person, even if they were never a bystander to such a crime. The day they sign their police contract, they forfeit their moral consciousness in order to uphold the laws, property, and ultimately the power of the already powerful.
First, it is important to recognize that capitalism necessitates policing. If we follow the self interest paradigm, which under capitalism is the main driver of economic decision making, theft would be rampant. If I am hungry, and you have food, it is in my self interest to steal from you. Private property is not an intuitive right. Without a police force, military, and state, private property cannot exist. The deed to a plot of land is just a piece of paper without its reference to a state which validates and enforces it. This layout is a sweet deal for those who have lots. The job of the police is to protect private property. But for those who have nothing it means a complete disregard for the poor as human beings. A poor man who steals groceries from a rich man still goes to prison. His only alternative is to starve. This man’s right to live is ignored in favor of the recognition of property. In the U.S. this system is inescapable, unaccountable, and ultimately has condemned millions to lose their rights to autonomy, safety, and to live. Every cop upholds this. It is their job.
However, power does not only originate in wealth for the U.S., it also takes its origins from racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and ableism among other forms of power. These institutions breathe through the state, which carry out their will. This is to say that the state must uphold these biases because they are those which validate its power. The criminalization of blackness through law is well documented. Laws have been designed and passed to actively deny the rights and personhood of Black people in the United States. First, slavery, recognizing the right of the slaveowner as a property holder over the right of the slave as person. Second, Jim Crow, the recognition of the right of white people to force Black people out of spaces they colonized. And now, mass incarceration which targets the Black community and denies their personhood through criminalization and imprisonment. There are many other ways in which the law was and is used to target Black people, these are just a few prominent examples. In every way, the police carried out these policies. It is ignorant to believe that the power of racism has escaped us. Power does not dissipate, it adapts, takes new form, and grows. Criminalization of small drug offenses is happening as you read. Predatory lending practices to minority communities are still happening. Gentrification is still happening. All of these practices are enabled by law. They are legal questions which institutionally bankrupt Black people of all they are entitled to and all that they have built. It is the job of police to uphold these laws.
This is why arguing that not every cop carries out racist actions is still not a response to ACAB. The question is not about the individual character of police officers, it is about the role that police serve in upholding the interest of the state.
And yet, while the individual character of police officers is not the focus, it is still important to recognize that cops--especially non-Black cops--are indeed individually racist. Power shapes us through reward, punishment, and education. This means if you are socialized in the U.S. you are bigoted. It means that even the most well meaning white people aren't exempt from racism. It means you must commit to actively reeducating yourself and evaluating your thoughts and actions to be anti-racist. Cops, just as anyone else socialized here, carry anti-Black biases, even if they are not deliberately expressed or recognized. These biases make them more likely to suspect Black people of lawlessness and thus, create conditions which target Black people. When this increased sensitivity to Black crime manifests into data, that data is used to reinforce the policing of Black communities expressly, through profiling, and internally by strengthening the individual’s bias. Moreover, it feeds vulnerable people into a criminal justice system where these biases are reproduced. Racist lawyers, jurors, judges, and wardens continue the legal legacy of racism through their personal biases.
The institution of policing can not and will not change. Our government fabric was woven from these forms of power, it is impossible for a system designed by bigotry to break free of it. You can't take down the master’s house with the masters tools. Policing is just one tool of the state. Well meaning reformists miss the fact that these institutions are built without accountability by design. When reforms are implemented, they become a part of the machine, producing the same outcomes. The difference between reform and nothing is that reformists get to feel like something has been done. One example, of the greatest irony, is the 8cantwait petition. Minneapolis, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and other major city police departments either a) already had these implemented or b) implemented these policies after the fact and alas, police violence has not faltered. Police have a monopoly on violence. When cops throw tear gas at protesters there is no recourse. When protesters throw tear gas back, they are made criminals. As many activists have asked, “who do we call when the police are hurting us?”. As long as we subscribe to the law built by our present state, we have nothing.
Abolishing the police is just a beginning to devolving power back to the people. It is not enough on its own. However, it is a meaningful start. A world post abolition means allocating resources in ways which service the community and seek to prevent crime or crisis before it happens. This means mental health services for those who are struggling. It means increased food, water, and shelter for those who do not presently have access. It means strengthening our education system so we prepare students to lead lives that lend to well being. The power lies with us, our responsibility is to mobilize our power to create a better world.