On This Day…

Subway Vigilante

December 22, 1984

Bernhard Goetz shoots four black youths in a N.Y. subway car, claiming he was frightened when they asked for $5. He was seen as a hero to many New Yorkers, who were tired of the crime in the city. In 1981, he was the victim of a mugging and was upset because the attacker spent less time in the police station than Goetz himself. He was further angered when his attacker was charged only with criminal mischief, for ripping Goetz’s jacket. Goetz applied for a concealed handgun permit, but was denied. He then bought a 5-shot .38-caliber revolver which he carried illegally. In 1984, four youths who were on their way to steal from a video arcade, confronted Goetz on the subway asking for $5. Two of the youths had moved next to Goetz, blocking him from the other passengers. Believing that he was being set up for a mugging, Goetz pulled his gun and began shooting the youths, hitting one in the chest, one in the back, the third in the arm and left side, and the fourth in the spinal column paralyzing him. Although at the time, the youths claimed they were only panhandling, one later admitted that they did indeed intend to rob Goetz.
He was acquitted of attempted murder and first-degree assault charges, but convicted of criminal possession of a weapon and served eight months in prison. In a 1996 civil trial, the paralyzed youth was awarded $43 million dollars.