In early June 2023, a post on r/WhitePeopleTwitter referenced a New York Police Department (NYPD) “Pride” vehicle, notable because the phrase “All Colors Are Beautiful” appeared in the Pride Month design motif:
On Reddit, r/ACAB’s letters matched the letters of the virally popular NYPD Pride design — the latter reading “All Colors Are Beautiful.”
The acronym “ACAB” was fairly well known and commonly used in 2023. Wiktionary defined it as an acronym “of all cops are bastards: an anti-police slogan protesting against police behaviour, often used in graffiti, tattoos and other imagery.” “Fuck 12” was listed as a synonym, alongside “1312,” yet another variation of “ACAB” (corresponding to the numbers of the letters in the alphabet).
By 2023, the “ACAB” acronym was prominent enough to receive its own Wikipedia entry, which explained the meaning and recent resurgence of “ACAB” and its variations. That entry described “ACAB” as a distillation of the sentiment that law enforcement is structurally flawed, and thus all officers are complicit in perpetuating an inherently unjust system of policing:
ACAB (All Cops Are Bastards) is an acronym used as a political slogan associated with dissidents who are opposed to the police. It is typically written as a catchphrase in graffiti, tattoos or other imagery in public spaces. It is sometimes numerically rendered as “1312”, representing the position of the letters in the English alphabet.
In the wake of the May 2020 murder of George Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin, the use of the term ACAB became more frequently used by those who oppose the police. As protests in response to Floyd’s murder and discussions about racially-motivated police violence spread through the United States, ACAB was more frequently referenced on social media and products bearing the acronym became available. Proponents of the term contended that ACAB means every single police officer is complicit in an unjust system. They argued that police officers, even if they did not take part in police brutality or racism in policing themselves, were still responsible for what their colleagues did because they did not speak out against it or try to stop it.
Wikipedia referenced the May 2020 murder of George Floyd as significant in the phrase’s adoption on social media. On June 10 2020, GQ.com published “A Brief History of ACAB,” measuring its statistics on TikTok and explaining why “all” was part of “ACAB”:
Now ACAB is reaching a new peak in popularity. And it’s not just anarcho-punks and skinheads using it anymore: TikTok videos labeled #acab have been viewed over half a billion times. While it may seem that this surge has emerged from nowhere, ACAB has popped up on occasion in the broader American anti-police brutality movement in the past. Back in 2018, for example, graffiti appeared on a billboard in Portland, Oregon that called attention to police brutality and supported Black Lives Matter. “Portland, is your white fragility showing?” the sign asked. “Yes it is,” an inspired tagger added. “ACAB.”
That display of supportive but needling graffiti is a good reflection of where ACAB stands in the protest movement today. On one hand, ACAB is an easy watchword and an effective expression of anti-authoritarian solidarity. On the other, it’s aggressive—undeniably aa provocative, and one that may generate more problems than solutions. Over at Complex, Kevin L. Clark has pointed out that ACAB, often used by white protesters, is a “misguided” form of allyship and can lead to greater police violence. Some activists have proposed revising the acronym to the marginally less offensive “All Cops Are Bad.” But the best defense of ACAB might come from anarchists, who have been preaching ACAB for decades. As one group put it, it’s not that all cops are bastards, but rather that all cops are “bounded”—not bad people themselves, but institutionally trapped in a system that is inherently oppressive.
On social media platforms, often nebulous “Community Standards” gave rise to softened or indirect forms of speech, popularizing terms such as “unalive” instead of “dead” or “kill.” In July 2022, Dictionary.com defined “unalive,” and explained:
Unalive is a slang term used on social media as a replacement for the verb kill or other death-related terms, often in the context of suicide. Unalive is typically used as a way of circumventing social media platform rules that prohibit, remove, censor, or demonetize content that explicitly mentions killing or suicide.
For example, it may be used in phrases like unalive myself or unalive attempt.
The term is used both seriously (such as in discussion of suicide prevention and awareness) and in nonserious posts and memes (such as saying My mom is going to unalive me if I don’t clean my room).
Such alternative words and phrases are often folded into layered meanings in a phenomenon that researcher Danah Boyd calls social steganography, essential to internet culture:
Steganography is an age-old tactic of hiding information in plain sight, driven by the notion of “security through obscurity.” Steganographic messages are sent through channels where no one is even aware that a message is hidden. For example, in the ancient Greek text “The Histories,” Demaratus hid a message in the wood beneath the wax of a wax tablet while Histiaeus tattooed a message on a slave’s head that was rendered invisible when his hair grew. In both cases, the message was easily accessible but required knowing that a message existed in the first place. Such techniques are also part of contemporary children’s play with toys like invisible ink pens. Steganography isn’t powerful because of strong encryption; it’s powerful because people don’t think to look for a hidden message. The meaning behind Carmen’s song lyrics post is, for all intents and purposes, invisible.
“1312” is often used in that fashion, as are matching acronyms like “All Cats Are Beautiful,” “Always Carry A Bible,” or in the case of the viral NYPD vehicle, “All Colors Are Beautiful”:
Asides from being the truth [All Cats Are Beautiful] is an oblique way of expressing “All cops are bastards” since they share the same acronym.
A woman in Spain was arrested for a bag with ACAB written on it but was released when it was found it apparently stood for this above expression.
Always carry a Bible is a similar expression that is more often used as a cover for when a tattoo that was chosen without too much thought.
When I see a legal criminal walking down the street I let them see that my T-shirt says : All Cats Are Beautiful.
Finally, ADL.com’s database of hate symbols said of “ACAB”:
The acronym ACAB stands for “All Cops Are Bastards” and is a slogan of long standing in the skinhead subculture. Because non-racist skinheads (including “traditional” skinheads and anti-racist skinheads) may use this acronym as well as racist skinheads, it should be carefully judged in the context in which it appears.
As for the NYPD’s Pride/ACAB vehicle, both Reddit posts above depicted the same June 2 2023 tweet by the apparently verified Twitter account of New York City Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell:
Happy Pride Month!
Over the years, @GOALny has demonstrated unwavering commitment to promoting universal acceptance and inclusion for all members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Their remarkable contributions to this city and the department defines New York's Finest. pic.twitter.com/kixIY1z3bJ
— Commissioner Sewell (@NYPDPC) June 2, 2023
That account bore a blue verification checkmark, a system previously utilized by Twitter to signify that an account was notable and represented accurately. However, in 2022 and 2023, Twitter changed the system to a paid subscription and removed “legacy” blue checks.
Unlike the account belonging to Commissioner Sewell, the account @NYPDNews had a gray checkmark for governments and officials:
Protect yourself and your money! When using an ATM, follow these tips and always be aware of your surroundings. pic.twitter.com/NTDfnbjC38
— NYPD NEWS (@NYPDnews) June 5, 2023
Twitter’s elimination of account verification made it virtually impossible to delve into whether the tweet was part of an elaborate prank or not. However, Sewell also had an Instagram account; that platform has not yet moved to a subscription-based verification scheme:
An Instagram account with a verified badge next to its name now means that Instagram has confirmed that it is the authentic presence for that person or brand. Previously, the verified badge also required the person or brand to be notable and unique. You may still see users with a verified badge that represents our previous eligibility requirements.The verified badge is a tool to help people find the real accounts of people and brands. If an account has the verified badge, we’ve confirmed that it represents who it says it does. A verified badge is not a symbol to show importance, authority or subject matter expertise. We don’t use the verified badge to endorse or recognize public figures or brands.
The verified Instagram account for Sewell also shared the image on June 2 2023:
View this post on Instagram
A caption for the post indicated that it had been “edited” at some point, and it read:
Over the years, @goalny has demonstrated unwavering commitment to promoting universal acceptance and inclusion for all members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Their remarkable contributions to this city and the department defines New York’s Finest.
On June 2 2023, an image of an NYPD “Pride” vehicle with “All Colors Are Beautiful” began circulating on Twitter and Reddit. “All Colors Are Beautiful” was interpreted as “ACAB,” a common acronym meaning “All Cops Are Bastards.” We found a version of the image on the verified Instagram account of NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell, suggesting it was indeed shared by Sewell on Twitter, too. Information about the image and the scope of its usage was not disclosed on either post.