On a cold December night in 1984, Bernard Goetz and three young black men met each other in a rather deserted Subway car in New York City. The last thing that all of the parties involved in the events that transpired agree on is that is that Goetz was riding the Subway alone when the four black youths approached him. Goetz claimed that the four youths threatened him with the business end of a screwdriver and demanded that he hand over his money. The youths contended that they were merely 'panhandling' to get some money so they could play video games.
To many people in New York, and all over the world, what Goetz did next was way out of line even if he a mugging was going on. He pulled out a gun and shot all four of the youths in what he called ‘self defence’. One of the youths, Darryl Cabbey, was paralyzed for life and suffered brain damage as well.
For more than three years, New Yorkers were engrossed in the saga of ‘The Subway Vigilante’. The case was a contentious one and at the time, it seemed that everyone had an opinion about it.
In general, conservatives called him a hero who was protecting himself in the face of a violent threat; just as any American, they said, has the right to do when threatened with a deadly weapon, like a screwdriver.
Liberals were outraged at the idea of a man taking the law into his own hands in such a deadly way. They were further incensed that he was doing it to protect a mere $5 (according to both the youth and Goetz, that is all they asked for).
After an eight and a half month trial, Goetz was acquitted of attempted murder and assault. He was found guilty of criminal possession of an unlicensed weapon for which he spent a total of 250 days in jail.
Cabbey, however, brought a civil suit against Goetz. He was awarded $43 million: $18 million for past and future pain and suffering and $25 million in punitive damages. Goetz declared bankruptcy shortly after the judgment.
Goetz after the trial
Goetz has never shown any remorse for his actions. In a 1994 interview with The Toronto Star he said ‘If you're injured, paralyzed or whatever while committing a violent crime against me, that's not my fault.’
He even acknowledged that he thought about gouging out the eyes of one of his injured ‘attackers’ with his keys and said that the attack ‘should be looked on as a public service’.
Goetz is now a vegetarian activist, working with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals , and espousing his Buddhist views about why animals shouldn’t be food for humans. He told The Washington (DC) Times that had he not been a meat eater at the time of the shooting, it would never have happened because of the ‘good karma’ attached to vegetarianism.
In 2001, Goetz Campiagned for Mayor of New York City. His platform was based on a call for vegetarian meals in the city’s public schools. In fact, other than that, he was so happy with the administration of then Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Goetz said that he would offer Giuliani a job as his right-hand man if he won the election.
Goetz received 1,049 votes out of 1,520,443 cast.