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Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Bernard Goetz: The Subway Vigilante

     In the 1980s muggers, rapists, and panhandling bums ruled the streets, trains, and subway stations of New York City. The Bronx looked like a post World War Two city that had been bombed to rubble. Prostitutes, pimps, x-rated store fronts, strip joints, three-card monte stands, street corner drug dealers, and thieves selling their loot were entrenched in Manhattan's Times Square. (Today, Times Square is as wholesome as Disneyland.) New York had become a seedy, smelly, and dangerous place. Tourism had dropped off and people doing legitimate business throughout the city struggled. Corrupt and incompetent politicians had let the Big Apple rot. Law abiding residents of New York were angry, frightened, and fed-up.

     In 1981, a gang of muggers in a Canal Street subway station beneath Manhattan beat-up and robbed 34-year-old Bernard Goetz. After the attack, Goetz, the owner of a small electronics business in Greenwich Village, started carrying a .38-caliber Smith & Wesson revolver.

     On December 22, 1984, at five-thirty in the evening, while riding the Number 2 train under Manhattan, four black teenagers approached Bernard Goetz and asked him for money. Believing that the youths were about to rob him, Goetz pulled out his S & W 38 and shot each kid once. The boys survived, but one of them, Darrell Cabey, was left brain-damaged and paralyzed.

     The subway shootings grabbed headlines in New York City and baffled the police who had no idea who had shot the teens. Nine days after the incident, Bernard Goetz turned himself into the police and identified himself as the so-called "Subway Vigilante." By now the case had divided New Yorkers by race. Blacks vilified Goetz as a trigger-happy racist. Many whites hailed him as a crime-fighting hero. The subway vigilante case symbolized a citizenry fed-up with out-of-control street crime and a broken criminal justice system.

     Manhattan's district attorney, fearing massive civil disorder, threw the book at Mr. Goetz, charging him with attempted murder, assault, reckless endangerment, and criminal possession of a weapon. In January 1988, the jury in the high-profile trial acquitted the defendant of all charges but the third-degree weapons offense. The judge sentenced Goetz to one year in jail. Nine months later he was free.

     In 1990, Darrell Cabey, the person Goetz paralyzed, sued him for $50 million. Six years later the jury awarded Cabey $43 million in damages. That year Goetz declared bankruptcy.

     On December 22, 2011, twenty-seven years to the day he was shot by Goetz on the train, James Ramseur was found dead of a drug overdose. Asked to comment on Ramseur's death by a reporter with the New York Daily News, Goetz said, "It sounds like he was depressed."

     On Friday, November 1, 2013, a female undercover cop cracking down on Ganja (a highly resinous form of cannabis) peddlers in Union Square Park at Fifth Avenue and 14th Street in Manhattan, was approached by a tall, thin man in his sixties who asked if she wanted to get high. When the cop said yes, Bernard Goetz said he would go to his apartment and return with $30 worth of marijuana. Upon his return from his Greenwich Village dwelling with the weed, the undercover cop placed him under arrest. A Manhattan prosecutor charged Goetz with the misdemeanor offense of criminal sale of marijuana. Suddenly Bernard Goetz, the Subway Vigilante, was back in the news.

     Since shooting the four teenagers in 1984, life had not been particularly kind to Bernard Goetz.


  1. This looks funny, to say the least. Social engineering and biased journalism may be making more of this than it is, and I'll bet there's money involved somewhere. There are so many ways to work on someone like him, I'd love to see what's really happening. Sometime a personality just breaks down completely, and other time the person needs a little bit of help, but we've all seen it happen. I saw the wolves go after Bernard Goetz after he beat the shooting rap for defending himself from New York's most dangerous kind of wildlife. An otherwise fine lawyer, William Kunstler, sued Bernard after he was finished doing time for the gun charge, having beaten attempted murder. One of the young predators eventually died of his gunshot wounds, and the others returned to lives of crime, including murder, robbery, rape and drugs. Bernard Goetz was a good judge of character. He know what he was doing, So did Zimmerman, though the media concealed his serious injuries from the young criminal's attack that caused the shooting. Liars in the media must share the blame for youth crimes like these.

  2. Goetz proves an important adage about law enforcement: if the police don't do the job we hire them for, then we will do it for them. Well done, Bernie Goetz, for drawing attention to the uselessness of the police at the time.