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Bernhard Goetz

Bernhard Hugo Goetz, the subway vigilante (born 1947), became a symbol of New Yorkers' frustrations with high crime rates after he shot four youths on an express subway train in the Bronx.

The incident

On the afternoon of December 22, 1984, four African-American youths, Barry Allen, Troy Canty, James Ramseur, and Darrell Cabey boarded the train on a mission to rob video game machines in Manhattan. Minutes later, Goetz entered the same train. He sat down across from the four youths. A few minutes later, two of the youths asked Goetz for five dollars. Goetz, pretending not to hear them, asked them to repeat themselves. Canty responded, "Give me your money."

Goetz responded by standing, drawing a revolver from his coat, and firing multiple times hitting all four. As Cabey lay bleeding, Goetz said "You don't look too bad, here's another," and fired at Cabey. The last shot left Cabey paralyzed. Goetz left the subway, rented a car, and drove to Vermont. He turned himself in to New York City police nine days later.

Public reaction

The "subway vigilante," as Goetz was labeled by New York tabloids, became front page news and stayed there for weeks, partly due to the passions it unleashed in New York and other urban populations. Some viewed Goetz as a hero for standing up to his attackers and defending himself in an environment where the police were increasingly viewed as unable to effectively combat crime. Others viewed Goetz's action as a violent and criminal over-reaction to the events. Since Goetz was white and the four youths were black, others focused on the racial aspects of the incident and the public reaction that followed.

Criminal trial

The Goetz trial was a significant news event. Goetz confessed to the shooting. Although the law stated that vigilantism was not a valid defense, the jury acquitted Goetz of the shooting but found him guilty of illegal weapons possession. He was sentenced to eight months. Race proved to be a minor issue. One of the witnesses, an African-American woman named Andrea Reid, testified that those "punks" got "what they deserve." James Ramseur's mother even said she wasn't sorry about what happened to her son.

Civil trial

Darrell Cabey filed a civil suit against Goetz in 1985. In 1996, a jury found that Goetz had acted recklessly and deliberately inflicted emotional distress on Cabey. The jury awarded Cabey $43 million. Goetz subsequently filed bankruptcy.

At the civil trial Jimmy Breslin, newspaper columnist, testified that Cabey had told him that he and the others had intended to rob Bernhard Goetz because "he looked like easy bait."

All of the youths have committed serious crimes since the original incident, except for Cabey, who remains paralyzed in a wheelchair. James Ramseur was later convicted of raping, sodomizing, beating, and robbing a pregnant nineteen year-old.

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