there are still no good cops
Over the course of the past months, I’ve gotten into extended “arguments” multiple times over the issue of cops, or specifically, people taking offense (sometimes intensely personal for some reason) in the stance that there are no good cops – expressed in various forms, but often as the well known acronym ACAB – All Cops Are Bastards.
Now, of course ACAB is an argumentative shortcut just as much as it is an expression of contempt, but behind it stands a substantial amount of structural criticism of the police as an institution of oppression. Many people have written about this before me – most of them probably better than me – but this is an attempt to collect the most commonly used “arguments” against the usage of ACAB or similar expressions (such as the equally well-known “Fuck The Police!”), show why they are bullshit, and simultaneously argue why there are no good cops.
This post is, by all means, a work in progress. I will probably add more if I think of anything else or get into more arguments with police apologists.
Disclaimer: I try to write this in a manner that is globally applicable, since the way the police works is, on an abstract level, roughly the same no matter where you go on this planet. My arguments, however, should be understood to come from a context that’s roughly equal parts German and American.
But not all cops!
This usually comes in the form of “but I know a cop who’s nice” or “a cop helped me once”, and is often used even by people who would agree that police violence is a problem to some degree. It misses the point because ACAB is not an insult of specific, individual cops, but an expression of disrespect and contempt for the police as a whole. We’re not talking about the cop who helped you find the next Starbucks last weekend or your relative who works for the police – we’re talking about all of them, as a whole.
The problem here is that a structural argument against the whole of the police as an institution (along with all of its agents and collaborators) is confused with an insult against a specific individual.
But here’s the thing: if there would actually be any “good cops”, why are they not fighting the bad cops? Why is there no bigger movement within the police to get rid of the “bad apples”? Why is there no public show of solidarity for the victims of those bad cops by those mysterious “good cops”? Why do the “good cops” not out the bad cops and bring them to justice? Where are all those “good cops”?
The answer is pretty simple, they don’t exist, because the way the police – an institution of oppression – works is that any such “good cops” would immediately be made an outsider, demoted, punished, and probably even fired & prosecuted, not to mention that they’d probably be subject to harassment by their (former) colleagues for the rest of their lives.
ACAB is not a constructive argument!
Yes, it isn’t. Neither are water cannons, pepper spray, tear gas, batons, and guns – you know, the things the police uses on a daily basis to attack unarmed civilians, protesters and activists. We’re talking about an institution that claims a monopoly on violence, which it uses, every day, to attack the weak and the marginalized, as well as those who try to fight with them. An institution which ignores (or even prosecutes) victims of sexual violence, protects racists & fascists, harasses the homeless, and always sides with those already in power.
We’re not required to respect such an institution, and neither are you. Asserting that we should respect the police merely for the sake of a “constructive argument” not just spits into the face of all the victims of police violence, it also asserts that there is an equal distribution of power – which is demonstrably false. It ignores the existence of marginalized or otherwise disenfranchised people, or worse, places the blame on them for being subject to police harassment.
As I’ve stated in the introduction, ACAB is a shortcut for saying all of the above (and more). It’s not meant to be a constructive argument on its own, nor does it have to be. And yes, it’s also meant as a way to show disrespect of the police, because the police has given us no reason to respect them.
One day, you will need the police yourself!
I can only remember one case where this was thrown at me personally, but I’ve seen it used quite a few times anyway. It comes in various forms, but most can be broken down to what I chose as the heading for this section. It’s the assertion that everyone will need the police at some point in their life, and then they will be glad they exist. There are a lot of things wrong with this assertion.
First of all, many of the people who reject the necessity of police do so from socio-progressive or even utopian perspectives (such as most anarchists, including yours truly), in which many of the reasons why you would need an institution like the police would simply disappear. Many crimes result from the fact that we live in a capitalist society where social injustice reigns, a system that creates and fosters greed, egoism, and repression. The fact, then, that we might one day be (or already have been) in a situation where we “need” the police is not a refutation of our argument, quite the contrary: it affirms the social criticism that (also) stands behind the phrase ACAB.
Secondly, even if we ignore the mentioned perspectives from which many of us argue, the necessity for something to exist in a given context does not invalidate criticism against it, no matter how these criticisms are expressed. Essentially, this “argument” is a silencing tactic, because it asserts that since, potentially, anyone could be in a situation where they needed the police, it is illegitimate to reject the institution or its legitimacy.
Lastly, it forgets that many people who would actually need the police to help or protect them are those who have instead the most to fear from them. In fact, I’ve only seen extremely privileged people (white, mostly male, all of them cisgender & in economically comfortable positions) make the assertion we’re discussing here. Many people who lack these privileges – people of color, trans persons, sexual or religious minorities, mentally ill folks, or homeless people – are regularly harassed or even killed by the police, in the overwhelming majority of cases without any sort of repercussions against the involved officers. Again, this “argument” is a punch in the face of those who need protection the most.