D.C., S.C. Police Shootings Raise Issues Of “Suicide By Cop”


When Renita Nettles approached a police officer brandishing a knife in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, she declared that she was “ready to die,” according to court documents quoted by the Christian Science Monitor. Police reports say the black 22-year-old was shot in the shoulder after she advanced toward the officer holding a knife, which she refused to drop. The incident was caught on video by bystanders. If she was trying to be shot, her case could be considered attempted “suicide by cop.” The police training website PoliceOne defines the phenomenon as the “unique type of officer-involved shooting that occurs when a suspect deliberately provokes an officer to shoot.” It is unknown how many attempts at “suicide by cop” are made annually. Nettles' shooting took place on the same day as that of 24-year-old Shamir Terrel Palmer in South Carolina amid similar circumstances. Palmer died on Monday.

Slate’s Josh Voorhees examined “suicide by cop” cases and found there was no distinction between instances where a person's death was premeditated and when it seemed to be a spontaneous decision during the confrontation. “There is no difference between a person who, in the moment, refuses to surrender and someone who actively seeks out the police as a means to end his life,” Voorhees writes. “That's a distinction that absolutely has to be made. Otherwise, the phrase ‘suicide by cop’ serves as a blanket excuse, a shrug of the shoulders when confronted with the worst possible outcome.”

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