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ACAB Means ALL Agents of the State, Regardless of Their Politics or Identity

It’s not just cops in riot gear that we have to fight to win abolition—it’s the whole damn system. Even when bad people are targeted by the state, it increases the state’s legitimacy. 

ACAB. You’ve likely seen the phrase on buildings or at least in a few Twitter bios. It means “all cops are bastards” (literally all). ACAB includes not only literal uniformed police officers—such as your sheriff uncle Jim—but all agents of the state that perpetuate the carceral state—like your prosecutor aunt Cheryl. Police officers target and arrest people, but prosecutors and judges ensure they go to prison. Once there, correctional officers abuse and neglect them. When they’re out, parole officers torment and surveil them. So, your average uniformed cop is not the only one who contributes to the prison industrial complex (PIC). Every single agent of the state that upholds the criminal punishment system is a bastard. This bears repeating as we witness people praise judges for harsh sentences or argue that queerness absolves police of their complicity in the PIC.  

Yes, even “progressive” prosecutors. 

In recent years, the myth of the progressive prosecutor has circulated as the ideal in PIC reformer circles. I say myth because any person whose job it is to prosecute people is doing the work of a racist and colonial state, even if they’re doing so in a way that’s more palatable for liberals. Just because a prosecutor decides not to prosecute a low level drug offense does not mean that they are revolutionary. It is still hugely damaging to prosecute cases of so-called violent crimes because most people in prison are there for violent crimes, which doesn’t make them any less deserving of decarceration, and ultimately, abolition. A “progressive prosecutor” doesn’t get us any closer to ending incarceration; in fact, it’s a facade of progress, making it seem like individual prosecutors can make all the difference. It’s well-known that prosecutors have immense power in the criminal punishment system, but to expect individuals to try to change the system from the inside is impossible and so-called progressive prosecutors allow themselves to get caught up in the lie that their individual acts of reform will work. They will not. Someone who is truly progressive would quit being a prosecutor because they would understand that their role legitimizes the carceral state. So long as they prosecute anyone, they’re bastards too. 

Yes, even gay cops. 

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Earlier this year, the organizers of NYC Pride said uniformed cops were no longer welcome to march in the parade. This was a fairly tame stance that frankly should have been taken long ago, considering cops have been antagonistic to queer people since the dawn of policing. Plus, plainclothes cops are still cops—and thus, should still be unwelcome at Pride. Shortly after the announcement, the op-eds and columns started pouring in to defend police officers at Pride. People likened the decision to ban cops to the discrimination all LGBTQIA+ people face in life—as if police officers aren’t directly responsible for a significant amount of that discrimination. NYC Pride honors the riots at Stonewall, and no amount of pinkwashing can change that the NYPD is still antagonistic to queer people 52 years later. In the years leading up to the riots at the Stonewall Inn, cops had regularly been targeting, harassing, attacking, and arresting queer people for  “sodomy” and “cross-dressing.” At Stonewall, cops violently raided the bar, attacking and injuring queer folks unprovoked. In a (not so) shocking turn of events, they did the same this year, deploying pepper spray on people celebrating Pride in Washington Square Park. I doubt anyone cared if the cop pepper spraying them was gay or not—it was violent and antagonistic nonetheless. So, again, gay cops are bastards too. 

Yes, even Latinx ICE agents. 

I am genuinely unsure how anyone could look at an ICE agent and not consider them the police. But there are politicians and so-called leftists alike that do not seem to remember to include ICE as part of abolitionists’ demands to end the PIC. Borders in and of themselves are antithetical to abolitionist thinking, so the fact that ICE exists at all is bad. But while they’re around, they’re definitely included in ACAB. The ways in which ICE agents track, detain, and torture undocumented immigrants is completely in line with what police officers do to those they consider criminal. It does not matter that a substantial minority of ICE agents are Latinx because the identity of the person detaining you doesn’t matter. Their identity doesn’t stop them from traumatizing people. Their identity doesn’t make what undocumented immigrants and asylum-seekers go through suddenly more palatable–especially when they go on the record saying that the money is so good, they won’t quit until ICE starts “gassing people.” That’s a bastard if I’ve ever seen one. 

The point is that anyone who moves like a cop is a cop. That’s why it’s shocking to see people with ACAB in their twitter bios cheering for judges who sentence people to multiple consecutive life terms. It’s not just cops in riot gear that we have to fight to win abolition—it’s the whole damn system. Even when bad people are targeted by the state, it increases the state’s legitimacy. So, we must resist the temptation to limit ACAB to the cops who are blatantly abusing their power. It’s still ACAB when a judge sentences Larry Nassar. It’s still ACAB when a sexual predator gets released despite being guilty as hell. It’s not easy, but abolitionists have to wholeheartedly commit to these ideals, or they’ll get lost in translation. 

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Reina Sultan is a Lebanese-American Muslim freelance journalist and one of the co-creators of 8 to Abolition. She is a PIC abolitionist and anarcha-feminist working to dismantle systems of white supremacist cisheteronormative patriarchy. Her work can also be found in VICE, Bitch, ZORA, Greatist, Teen Vogue, and more. Follow @SultanReina on Twitter for hot takes and cat photos.

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