Activists Say Cannibal's Arrest Reflects a Policing Double Standard

August 18th 2016

Kyle Jaeger

The gruesome story of a 19-year-old student killing two people and eating one of their faces has ignited a conversation about racial double standards in policing. To some, the fact that the suspected murderer, Austin Harrouff, was arrested without injury is a testament to white privilege.

Here's what happened.

Harrouff reportedly left a sports bar where he was having dinner with family on Monday and randomly targeted a couple sitting in their garage. He fatally stabbed them with a switchblade and also stabbed a neighbor who attempted to intervene, The Miami New Times reports. Police arrived to find the student biting one of the victim faces — but they were ultimately able to remove him from the victim after multiple attempts to deescalate the situation.

For all intents and purposes, this is policing done right. Reform advocates have repeatedly called on police departments to adopt a policy of deescalation, limiting the use of deadly force. After Harrouff refused orders to stop what he was doing, police used a Taser and police dog — and then, when those methods didn't work, surrounded Harrouff and removed him from the body.


Advocates doubt police would've employed such tactics if the suspect had been black.

The New York Daily News' Shaun King wrote that "[f]or young black men, the use-of-force continuum is regularly thrown right out the window as police start blazing their guns with ferocity and quickness." He cited a 2012 case where Florida police encountered a black man eating the face of a man he killed. In that instance, police shot and killed Rudy Eugene without first attempting to stop him with a Taser or dog.

A lot of people had the same reaction as King on social media.

It's sometimes difficult to draw conclusions about the role of race in a given case, but the data on fatal police shootings lends credibility to this argument. Police are 2.5 times as likely to fatally shoot a black person than a white person, according to an analysis by The Washington Post, and experts believe that racial bias contributes to that disparity. Black people are also "more likely to be touched, handcuffed, pushed to the ground or pepper-sprayed by a police officer, even after accounting for how, where and when they encounter the police," a 2016 study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research found.

To King, there's no mistaking the role of race in Harrouff's case. "A part of the definition of white privilege is having options unique to you because of your skin," he wrote. "Clearly, those benefits even extend to a rampaging cannibal."

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