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Why ACAB Is Bad

You'll often hear the phrase "All Cops Are Bastards" (ACAB) thrown around in LGBTQ+ circles. It stems from the Black Lives Matter movement, and they are sometimes viewed as synonymous. This is deeply flawed. "Black Lives Matter" (BLM) is a reminder that people of color in this country should not be seen as less than. As a statement to contrast the reality that in many ways, people of color are seen as if they don't matter enough, and that they ought to matter equally. But BLM is more about systemic racism of a variety of forms — not just prejudiced policing — and raising awareness to the root causes that it aims to fix.

ACAB on the other hand says every cop is inherently morally corrupt by virtue of the profession they choose. The answer to this is often to "defund the police". Neither of these is without serious flaw. Generalizing an entire group of people — regardless of the group — is deeply flawed, and itself morally corrupt. It is critical to judge each individual within the group, and draw conclusions from the summation of all the parts.

Further, if every police officer were to be swapped out for a brand new hire, ACAB would still apply. In other words, there is inherently no solution to ACAB. Regardless of hire date, the only time in which a cop might not be a bastard (and even then, it depends on if you follow the mantra of "once a cop, always a cop") is if they leave the profession, whether by retirement or termination or death. So if there's no way to solve a problem, what is there to fix?

Well, clearly, a lot, or the offshoot rallying call of "defund the police" wouldn't have appeared. Before we dive into that, let's draw a parallel to the private sector to make some sense of why ACAB is bad. And in this example, we'll use "The Company Co.", an entirely fictitious business specializing in security that we'll abbreviate as TCC for simplicity's sake.

TCC's employees are notorious for murder, theft, unprompted violence, narcotics charges, perjury under oath, fraud, flagrant violations of constitutional rights, and worst of all, getting away with it. Nothing has been done to stop TCC and its employees. Despite the flagrant criminal offenses, TCC refuses to fire employees, let alone reprimand them at all. The entire culture behind TCC not only allows and enables criminal offenses, but by virtue of doing so, actively encourages them. So, if TCC won't fix the problem, what else can be done?

The most glaringly obvious answer is to have the authorities handle the situation. And in this case, given that TCC and its employees are acting in flagrant violation of the law, it is safe to assume that any and all criminals within TCC would be arrested. Now what about TCC? How do we shut down a company with criminal corporate culture?

Same as any company. Enough bad press means investors back out, clients stop doing business, eventually expenditures (such as wages) outweigh any gross profits and the company as a whole ceases to remain afloat. So once the criminals are held accountable, defunding the company they work for is an excellent way to make sure they aren't allowed to continue operating. That's what defunding the police is about, right?

You missed a step. Several, actually. And still, somehow no, it's not.

The first and most obvious step is regulation. Oversight. The ability to hold police departments and their officers accountable in a tangible way. Without this, criminal behavior within police departments has no repercussions — notably because it ceases to be criminal. Seems obvious enough, and you'd be hard-pressed to find someone that subscribes to ACAB or defunding the police that believes otherwise to boot. It's a fairly universal solution to those that see a problem, with good reason.

The second step — which in an ideal world is to be done in tandem with the first step — is training for replacement techniques. Every "don't do this" should be paired with a "do this instead" to be truly successful. It is not enough to simply say "car chases are bad, don't participate in them". You must also outline what to do if a suspect flees.

The third step — to some at least — is better tooling. It is not enough to tell an officer not to use a firearm as frequently. You must also provide a reasonable alternative. While I cannot find public stats on bean bag gun prevalence, less than half of police officers in the US have access to Tasers (see sources 1 and 2 below). And even then, tasers only worked about 2/3 of the time. This means more money, not less, particularly for departments which operate at capacity, or even below it.

Yet, somehow, the goal of defunding the police is to punish them for doing a bad job, without providing actual punishment. But police reform itself can be tricky, for a big reason that not enough people talk about: police unions.

Unions are designed to ensure the free market doesn't abuse the rights of its workers. It has no place in the public sector. The biggest method unions use to get their way is to go on strike. And police strikes have happened on and off for over a century, often with disasterous results. There are countless examples of police unions threatening strikes too. This is an ability that no branch of government should be allowed to have for any reason whatsoever, but it's particularly ergegious to justify forcing a mayor to declare a state of emergency just to get a better pension plan. It is a vile thought that military allowed to unionize, let alone jailors, all for the same reason. Imagine if a jail were to be left without employees due to a strike. Imagine if this country were to be placed at immediate threat of destruction by foreign militaries. What other horrors might unfold if we expand this further? What lesser evils would be prevented by forbidding unions in the public sector entirely?

Is there a benefit to unions in the public sector? Of course there is. But do the downsides of keeping them far outweight removing them? Absolutely. Unions should purely be a private sector endeavor, and should be outlawed from the public sector.

It is unknowable what the consequences of police reform and unions disapproving said reform will have. But, for the forseeable future, police unions won't be outlawed, so they are here to stay. This means regulation and reform needs to be justifiable to the public interest and not overly harsh, in order to fully succeed. Generalizing cops as inherently bad doesn't accomplish this goal, and defunding police sidesteps the issue entirely.

Maybe, then, it shouldn't be surprising to know that my uncle is a retired detective. If your reaponse to my sharing of this was to immediately eyeroll and a scoff, your mind is made up. But, if you have an open-enough mind, I'd like to play the hypothetical out. What if we entertained the obvious solution to ACAB, and got rid of every police officer? Then what?

The truest of answers is anarchy. This isn't just an "All Lives Matter" viewpoint (it should be noted that the "All Lives Matter" mindset is a privileged and dismissive one), it is the objective truth. Governments require a method to enforce the legislation they craft to have any use at all. Without police, there is no enforcement. Without meaningful laws, there is anarchy.

Sure, we could come up with an alternative to police departments. We could, for example, extend the military to perform this function. But no country can feasibly remove the function of police without replacement and prevent a descent into chaos. I'm sure I don't need to fill in the gaps here. A quick look at a history book (or hell, even current events in many cases) will do that just fine.

So, unless that pipe dream can somehow exist peacefully, it's hard to see where the mindset that "All Cops Are Bastards" has any justification, solution, or even utility. And similarly, defunding the police skips critical steps.

"ACAB" is bad, and you should stop using it. Support police reform instead.

1 - 400,000 police officers have tasers (June 27, 2019) - NPR.org "Despite Widespread Use, Police Rate Tasers As Less Effective Than Believed"
2 - 812,000 police officers in US (2019) - Data USA - "Police Officers"