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Victoria police chief says 'ACAB' in city-sponsored mural 'disrespectful' to officers

Last Updated Aug 28, 2020 at 5:42 pm PST

The acronym "ACAB" in the "More Justice, More Peace" mural in Victoria B.C. (Courtesy reddit)

Victoria's police chief is speaking out against a city-sponsored mural which includes the acronym 'ACAB'

The mural says 'More Justice, More Peace' with acronym written within one of the letters

Chief Const. Del Manak says it is 'deeply disrespectful' to his officers

VICTORIA (NEWS 1130) — The city-sponsored mural in Victoria being labelled as disrespectful by the police chief is about more than just the letters painted the ground, according to the project organizer.

The mural reads “More Justice, More Peace,” but it’s the acronym “ACAB,” which stands for All Cops Are Bastards, within one of the letters that caught Chief Const. Del Manak’s attention.

“The inclusion of ACAB is deeply disrespectful to the women and men of the Victoria Police Department,” Manak writes in a statement.

“I fully support the spirit behind the mural as I understand it to have been originally presented to the City of Victoria. The Victoria Police Department, and I personally, stand behind the call for ‘More Justice, More Peace.’ Justice is not justice if it does not include all members of society. Excluding one group through harmful words seems counter to the very spirit of the mural itself.”

But Charity Williams, who organized the mural, says it was an opportunity for artistic activism.

“There’s a real systemic issue in Canada,” she says. “It’s not really about those four letters or what that artist was trying to convey. It’s a much bigger message. It’s a message of systemic racism, oppression, deleting BIPOC experience, [and] erasing and painting over BIPOC voices.”

It about starting a dialogue rather than just having one conversation, Williams says.

“This mural is very small in comparison to what the real issues are,” she adds.

In his statement, Manak insists he’s committed to building stronger relationships with Black and Indigenous communities.

After becoming aware of the acronym in the mural, the police chief says he brought his concerns to Victoria’s city manager.

The city says it is reaching out to the artists and the African Heritage Association of Vancouver Island for further discussion.

“Our understanding of what that acronym means is that it may be something that denigrates police officers,” says city spokesperson Sheldon Johnson.

“We do want to discuss the acronym because it’s not in the spirit of the City’s guidelines for art and public spaces, so we just need to open up that discussion with them.”

‘Art provokes discussion’

Victoria Coun. Sharmarke Dubow responded to the statement in a Twitter thread, saying while he understands the police chief’s statement, it “focuses on the importance of building strong relationships with BIPOC communities instead of addressing the real injustices that exist.”

Dubow points out a long history to “ACAB,” and says recently, it has represented police reform.

“It does not mean that every individual officer is a bad person but that the police as a whole (and when in uniform) are complicit in an unjust system,” he says.

“It’s important that an artist included this acronym in their work and it is a dangerous precedent for the city to paint over right away an artist’s expression. It’s not graffiti, it’s an art piece. Art provokes discussion.”

And while he says he’s glad Victoria is open to discussion, erasing the acronym isn’t going to change the issues the community faces, but rather it could deepen the divides.

Dubow notes the mural was created by 16 BIPOC artists, and instead of focusing solely on the statement, “it’s important to focus on the feelings of the artist who wrote it. Conversations about police reform have never been about individual officers being bad. It’s about systematic reform needed in policing to save lives and better provide community safety.”

“Art is freedom of expression – the artist made a statement regarding this. This is about freedom of expression,” Dubow says.

-With files from the Canadian Press