One of the striking, brilliant paradoxes of American life is how it reconciles the legal with the brutal, the concept of a healthy rounded life with that of fast food and supersizing. At times, its legalism is sclerotic and mundane. Its violence, in contrast, is spectacular and scenic. A country where states are allowed to legislate and inflict the death penalty can still take pride in an assortment of lobbies that oppose it. Public massacres by private citizens are followed by legal justifications for why guns should be allowed in homes.
Which brings us to the case of the man whose face was being chewed off on Miami’s MacArthur Causeway over the weekend. It was said with such plainness, suggesting that neighbours have each other for lunch on Miami’s freeways with some frequency. And in the buff. The victim was having his face removed by the incisors of his assailant, identified as 31-year-old Rudy Eugene, bringing one to the startling conclusion that this was a sex deed that had taken the gastronomic too far. (That, however, has not been suggested in the reports.) Witness Larry Vega decided to be citizenly, and go over the engrossed couple to halt the culinary proceedings. ‘You know it’s like the guy just kept eating the other guy away, like ripping his skin’ (CNN, May 29).
Armando Aguilar of the Miami Fraternal Order of Police stated the extent of the damage. ‘Seventy five to eighty percent of his face was missing. And he was actually swallowing pieces of the man’s face.’ The individual remains in a condition that has been termed ‘critical’.
Vega, feeling incapable to separate the two, flagged down a police officer. The officer approached, asked the violent biting to stop, pulled a gun and was faced by a unimpressed Eugene indifferent to the approaching the weapon. The lethal arm of the law would have none of it, and began firing into the assailant. Violence was met with violence, and death.
The event got immediate traction. Titles were born. The ‘man eating face attacker’, as he was termed, became the ‘Miami Cannibal’, the ‘Zombie Attacker of Miami’ or the ‘Causeway Cannibal’. Eugene ceased to be a human figure. Indeed, he was everything but one, having become, in the language of the authorities, a beast that needed to be put down. ‘Responding officers tell news that shooting Eugene was likes shooting an attacking bear; it took several gun shots to finally kill Eugene’ (Lalate News, May 29). In this legal void, the law falls silent – one is merely killing intrusive fauna on a motorway.
This is the sort of liberated violence that would thrill everyone from case-hungry anthropologists to medically speculative clinicians. As the violence is being analysed and theorised, the subject of it vanishes. Arid theories have a habit of stripping their subjects of human content. The medical lobby was hardly surprised by the case. The attack may have been induced by the consumption of LSD bath salts, pushing the consumer to a state of ‘psychosis’ exhibiting, in Aguilar’s words, ‘superhuman strength’.
Dr. Paul Adams, an emergency room physician at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami spoke of the inducement of delusions after taking the substances. ‘I took care of a 150 pound individual who you would have thought he was 250 pounds.’ Six security officers were needed to restrain the individual in question. Aguilar spoke of four previous cases in the Miami area alone. In all of this, Eugene becomes comic fantasy or gothic grotesque, the cannibalistic nude or the dark figure of horror. The police are not merely justified to take lethal action, they are congratulated for having put down an individual who was a mere ‘zombie’. One can’t kill the fictional or unfeeling after all.
An entire lexicon has also sprung up on the term ‘bath salts’. Having only recently emerged, it is now part of the drugs repertoire, often in the form of a synthetic powder with names such as ‘Ivory Wave’, ‘Red Dove’, ‘Blue Silk’, ‘Ocean Snow’, ‘White Lightning’, ‘Scarface’ and ‘Hurricane Charlie’. Nora D. Volkow, Director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse, spoke in February 2011 of this ‘worrisome’ appearance.
What of the authorities? The blessed Drugs Enforcement Administration made possession of various stimulants in bath salts – Mephedrone, 3, 4 methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDVP) and Methylone, illegal by emergency order in October. Blessed as they are with citizens suffering ‘psychotic’ symptoms and Hulk-like moments of delusionary strength, armed police officers will be graced with an open warrant for murder.