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Opinion >  Syndicated columns

Leonard Pitts Jr.: Good riddance to 34 cops

By Leonard Pitts Jr. Tribune Content Agency

It was reported last week that 34 New York City police officers took unpaid leave rather than comply with that city’s vaccine mandate. For this, New Yorkers should thank them.

And then, find a way to fire them.

Supposedly, according to the city’s police unions, as many as 10,000 uniformed officers out of about 35,000 had been set to walk off the job. To have only a tiny fraction of that number carry out the threat is something of a relief. But yes, the city owes thanks to the 34 cops who did, because that was an act of public service.

Meaning that they outed themselves as officers who were likely unfit for duty. Valid medical and religious exemptions aside, it seems reasonable to suspect a high correlation between refusal to obey vaccine mandates and susceptibility to the right-wing extremism, outlandish conspiracy theories and utter disconnect from reality that have ignited vaccine – and mask – mandate resistance for the better part of two years.

As was made clear by the fact that sworn officers took part in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, the ranks of law enforcement have been infiltrated by radicalized cells of these so-called conservatives. Anything that roots them out is something for which Americans should be grateful, and if they are willing to self-identify, to, in effect, hold up their hands and be counted, so much the better.

It is hard to get a handle on the size of this movement. Is it a minuscule splinter of the total force as New York would seem to suggest? Or is it more? One hopes it is the former, but even if it is the latter, we’re still better off doing without them than caving in to them. Yes, losing a critical number of police officers would constitute a threat to public safety. But so would leaving unvaccinated officers in place to interact daily with an unsuspecting public.

And that’s just in the short term. Over the long term, there is another – arguably, greater – concern. Meaning that of leaving law enforcement power in the hands of those who clearly don’t respect the law, who think themselves above it.

People often rhapsodize about police as a “thin blue line” standing between us and social chaos. The fact that chaos is hard upon us is obvious from the perusal of any random day’s news. Last week, for instance, hundreds of QAnon followers stood in the rain in Dallas’ Dealey Plaza where John F. Kennedy was murdered on Nov. 22, 1963, waiting for the return of the 35th president and his namesake son, who died in a plane crash on July 16, 1999. They believed the two John Kennedys, the elder now 104 years old, would return that day to install Donald Trump as president.

Note that this act of mass lunacy barely penetrated public consciousness. It’s a bad sign when the breakdown of norms becomes the norm. Worse, too many police are now to be found on the other side of that breakdown, contributing to it instead of defending against it. Refusing to obey duly constituted authority by taking a shot? Really? That’s a dereliction of duty for which the entire profession should be ashamed.

Make no mistake: To lose 34 cops – or 3,400 or 34,000 – is to lose a critical investment in time, training and human capital. But to lose them in this way and for this reason is also to separate wheat from chaff.

When you put on that badge, it means something. That you now work for your fellow citizens. That you represent an ideal. And that you uphold the law. Part of which is obeying the law.

Any cop who can’t do that shouldn’t be a cop in the first place.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 3511 NW 91st Ave., Miami, FL 33172. Readers may contact him via email at

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