The Suicide Of Officer Smith And Ethics Zugzwang

Officer Smith

Ethics zugzwang is a term used on Ethics Alarms to describe situations where there are no ethical options, only unethical ones The origin is the world of chess, which uses the German word zugzwang to indicate a game position in which a player is safe from checkmate as long as he or she doesn’t move. But of course, a player has to do something; time cannot be stopped in place. In ethics zugzwang, and resolution is a bad one.

The current controversy over the suicide of Jeffrey Smith, a D. C. Metropolitan Police Department police officer who confronted the mob in the Capitol on January 6 and shot himself nine days later, is a perfect example of ethics zugzwang in our ugly political environment. Smith’s widow Erin is convinced that his death was caused by the riot, she says, and will petition the Police and Firefighters’ Retirement and Relief Board to designate her husband’s suicide as a death in the line of duty. “When my husband left for work that day, he was the Jeff that I knew,” Ms. Smith said in an interview. “When he returned after experiencing the event, being hit in the head, he was a completely different person. I do believe if he did not go to work that day, he would be here and we would not be having this conversation.” Of course, she is welcome to believe whatever she chooses. Having her husband’s death ruled as occurring in the line of duty also carries with it substantial financial benefits. Confirmation bias is unavoidable.

The facts are that very little is known about what Officer Smith experienced on January 6. He was injured, but to what extent is undetermined. Some of his behavior after the riot is consistent with post traumatic stress syndrome, but that was never diagnosed. Correlation isn’t causation, and post hoc ergo propter hoc — “after this and therefore because of this”—is an ancient logical fallacy.

Naturally Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi wants Smith and the other officer who killed himself after the Capitol riot, Howard S. Liebengood of the Capitol Police, to be regarded as a victim of the event. She mentioned both officers in her bill to grant the Congressional Gold Medal to the officers who responded on the sixth, and said that the arguments raised by Officer Leibengood’s widow were “well-founded.” But her party is determined to show that the rioting killed someone other than one of the demonstrators, whose shooting by an officer whose mane has still not been officially released remains the only verified death that can be directly attributed to the event. During the “snap impeachment” trial of former President Trump,false evidence was presented by the Democratic House prosecutors of another officer’s alleged death from injuries sustained in the riot. Meanwhile, the controversy over Smith’s suicide is arising while the House is engaging in political theater, as a rigged inquiry investigates the riot with a predetermined conclusion already mapped out. The intention is to prove that the riot was an “insurrection,” and to make certain that Donald Trump is perceived by the public as having metaphorical blood on his hands. What Erin Smith deserves and how such suicides should be regarded cannot be separated from a partisan agenda.

Some authorities believe police officers have a 50% greater risk of suicide than the general population, in part because of their frequent exposure to trauma, though other factors are at work as well. More police officers may kill themselves each year than are killed on the job. Nevertheless, assuming that a cop suicide was caused by the job without direct evidence is an emotional decision rather than a rational one, and ultimately irresponsible, creating a double standard. Making that assumption with the decision polluted by animus against Donald Trump is unethical, while creating a lesser standard for awarding benefits to police who died after the January 6 riot while officers who killed themselves after other traumatic experiences related to their duties is obviously unjust.

The families of the officers have conflicts of interest, and so do their political allies as well as those opposing their benefits. A reliably ethical result is now impossible.


14 thoughts on “The Suicide Of Officer Smith And Ethics Zugzwang

  1. Nevertheless, assuming that a cop suicide was caused by the job without direct evidence is […]

    It seems to me that it is vey hard to have direct evidence whether a cop suicide was caused by the job.
    Can you give some examples?

    • Well, a lot of folks leave suicide notes, so you can go by the contents. Also sometimes if you go back through whatever social media presence they have you might see clues as to what was leading up to the suicide. Not clear if this guy left a note or if there was any clue in his social media presence as to why he did himself in.

    • Sure it is hard. That means that a particular cop’s suicide cannot be fairly or reasonably attributed to the job in the absence of such evidence. All one can say is that since a higher percentage of cops kill themselves (veterans too–also artists, alcoholics….) that those in less violent professions, the job plays a factor in the deaths of some cop suicides, but without proof, nobody knows which.

    • There is this concept of “suicide by cops” where the criminal makes sure he will be shot dead by the cops.
      Is there something comparable, the other way around where a (suicidal) cop makes sure he gets killed in the line of duty so that he gets an honorable funeral and his family substantial financial benefits.

  2. Nancy Pelosi doesn’t give a damn about either of these officers or what happens to them or their families. Generally speaking, the Democratic party doesn’t give a damn about what happens to anyone except them. What she wants to do is create a narrative that will endure and hopefully enable her party to maintain power, maybe by hanging on to slim majorities in Congress next year, and by hanging on to the White House in 2024. It would be poetic justice if she were electrocuted – you want power, how’s this? Bzzzzt!

    • Correct. They care only about those they can use to fit their narrative while they fit the narrative.

      The Democrat leadership cares about police in the same way they cared about John McCain and George H.W. Bush; the same way they care about blacks, guys, women, children, the elderly, illegal immigrants and small business owners…they are a means to an end.

        • Aunt Nan and Chuck Schumer and Adam Schiff and Steven Cohen and Jerry Nadler and Maxine Watters and the rest of their cohorts are unprecedentedly nasty people. They make Newt Gingrich on his worst day look like Santa Claus. Was Joe McCarthy worse? As bad?

          • In some ways not as bad, in other ways worse. None of these folks stole valor. Both tried to impose their vision of things through the abuse of power. McCarthy plowed through ordinary people like pawns and destroyed lives indiscriminately. This group is trying to destroy one particular life, and any life that gets in the way becomes a destructible pawn. The idea of someone using the power of government to destroy indiscriminately should horrify you, because that is gross abuse. The idea of someone, or several someones, using the the power of government to target a specific individual for destruction should terrify you, because if one person can be targeted like that, so can others, including you. I’ve seen this done up close and personal on a smaller scale, where a mayor and a police commissioner came to political blows, and the mayor made not only the police commissioner’s life miserable, but made his son’s (also on the job) life miserable and made his closest friends’ lives miserable, all in the name of feeding his own ego and power. It’s unfair, it’s un-American, and it’s ugly, ugly, ugly.

  3. Post hoc ergo propter hoc — “after this and therefore because of this” —

    Haven’t seen this before. Very interesting and very helpful.

  4. I’ll defer to the Commentariat’s staff psychologists and psychiatrists, but to me, having no credentials whatsoever, suicide is such a drastic step, I can’t see it occurring in an otherwise mentally healthy person. There has to be some underlying, long term, clinical depression. Suicide is just not a rational response to any stimulus. Of course, with the aid of HIPPA, the Dems will never have to reveal any medical history on this officer.

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