While police are seeking to put together the details of one of the most violent and gruesome murders of recent years, race activists are suggesting that statements made by the sheriff of Martin County, Florida, put so-called white privilege on display when describing the perpetrator of the crime.
Today, Austin Harrouff -- the 19-year-old son of a prosperous local dentist – is in critical but stable condition at a hospital in Jupiter, Florida. Harrouff is accused of approaching a married couple and stabbed and beat them to death. He also attacked and wounded a neighbor who tried to intervene while he chewed on the face of his dead male victim.
Austin Harrouff was a body builder and steroid user
While investigators in Florida are struggling to understand what prompted an attacker to approach two strangers this week, stab and beat them to death, and then chew on one victim’s face, many activists see racial bias in the way the police treated the suspect, a white 19-year-old college student. A spokesperson for Sheriff William Snyder’s office said in a statement that Harrouff will be arrested as soon as he is released from hospital. Snyder said he had never seen a homicide committed with as much aggression in his four decades of law enforcement experience. He is to be charged with first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, burglary and the armed resistance of an officer. Florida still imposes the death penalty in some cases.
Harrouff is white and a body builder who frequently posted selfies and comments about himself on social media. He is a student at Florida State University, and belongs to a fraternity there. It was after quarreling with his father at a restaurant in Jupiter that he carried out his savage attack. Harrouff’s mother, Mina, was concerned about his behavior and called police. “It seems like he’s a little delusional,” she said in a 911 call. She added, “He feels immortal and like a superhero, so I don’t know what’s going on with him.” Harrouff was carrying a switchblade.
Michelle and John Stevens
On his way towards his father’s home, Harrouff stopped just one street short of the destination and found Michelle and John Stevens sitting in their garage and relaxing that evening. Stevens (59) was bludgeoned and stabbed to death, receiving wounds to the head, neck, and chest. Michelle Stevens was beaten to death. Neighbor Jeffrey Fisher attempted to stop Harrouff but was stabbed several times and fled. He called 911 and survived.
When the law arrived, deputies used a police dog and tasered Harrouff until he finally relented. “The suspect in this case was abnormally strong,” the sheriff said this week. The taser did not affect Harrouff, and deputies could not pull him away. “Nothing was working, using all the physical force they could muster,” Sheriff Snyder added.
The reasons for the attack remain unclear. Tests on Harrouff for drugs such cocaine, marijuana, and opiates proved to be negative. Authorities are seeking to know if synthetic drugs such as so-called flakka and bath salts may be involved. In a video, Harrouff admitted to using steroids as part of his bodybuilding routine. Flakka is known to cause delirium, paranoia, and superhuman strength. “I used to think that I needed steroids to be a body builder,” he said in a video. “To be this thing, to be this symbol, to be this lie.” A lawyer for the family, Michelle Suskauer, told NBC, “Certainly, there are mental health issues that are going to have to be investigated here.”
Race activists took issue with statements Sheriff Snyder made to the effect that Harrouff appeared to have been a “good kid” until unleashing the horrific attack. 80 percent of the population of the Jupiter area are white.
On Twitter “Aidan Alexander” stated, “Ok so some white teenager can kill a couple & literally try to eat them & he's a ‘good kid’ but a black man shot for no reason is a criminal.” Someone who goes by the handle “Popehat” tweeted, “If anyone ever kills me and eats my face I hope it's a real good kid everyone likes because otherwise it would be pretty gross.”
An activist with the Black Lives Matter movement, Jasmen Rogers, said in an interview with The Miami New Times that black people are more likely to be shot by law enforcement than whites, even in cases of crimes not involving violence. “There are a lot of questions as to why it seems people of color are shot and killed quicker than other folks,” Rogers said. “There’s more de-escalation, more negotiation, more tactics used when it comes to white people.”
Others see the Jupiter attack as being similar to an attack in Miami. In 2012, 31-year-old Rudy Eugene attacked a homeless man and chewing on his face. The victim required extensive reconstructive surgery. Eugene was shot and killed by police. Race activists ask why Eugene was killed but Harrouff was arrested and still alive. Ronald Poppo, the homeless man who survived the 2012 attack, described Eugene as a “good guy.” Poppo, however, lost an eye, his nose and parts of his forehead to Good Guy Eugene.
Shaun King, a writer for The Daily News who used to claim a black identity, wrote yesterday, “While it appears Austin Harrouff was taken into custody and later sedated in a hospital, Rudy Eugene died right there on the causeway.” Referring to Eugene, King wrote, “His mother struggled to even find a place to host his funeral.”