Remembering the Subway Vigilante and Lamenting How Little Things Have Changed

“You don’t look like you’re hurt too bad, here’s another.”

Those words, or some variation of them like, “You seem all right, here’s another” were attributed to Bernhard Goetz, otherwise known as the “Subway Vigilante”.

Bernhard Goetz was a nebbish little man who had been mugged on the New York subway in 1981. Three years later, fearing he was about to be mugged again, Goetz opened fire on four black passengers (Barry Allen, Troy Canty, Darrel Cabey and James Ramseur) on a subway train with a Smith & Wesson .38 caliber revolver he had purchased in Florida after having been denied a New York gun permit.

After shooting the four young men, Goetz is alleged to have said, “You don’t look like you’re hurt too bad, here’s another” before shooting one of the men (Cabey) a second time leaving him paralyzed.

goetz-subway-train-aftermath

Paramedics and wounded passengers aside, get a look at that subway car. It sure does not look much like the ones Jerry Seinfeld and his friends used to get around New York City in the 1990’s. A lot changed in the Big Apple in a decade.

I was thinking about Bernie Goetz this week as I updated an article from November 2018 discussing how it seems to be open season on young black men, and so long as you are a police officer or a white civilian, there seem to be little consequences.

RELATED: It Feels Like Open Season on Black Men in America…Again.

Goetz told police he planned a “pattern of fire” even before he stood up from his seat and that he checked the first two men to make sure that they had been “taken care of.”

“My intention was to murder them, to hurt them, to make them suffer as much as possible. If I had more bullets, I would have shot ’em all again and again. My problem was I ran out of bullets. I was gonna, I was gonna gouge one of the guys’ [Canty’s] eyes out with my keys afterwards.”

And of course, “You seem to be all right, here’s another.

One of the witnesses later said, “In all probability, the defendant uttered these words only to himself and probably not even mouthing the words, but just saying them in his own mind as he squeezed the trigger that fifth time.”

At trial, Goetz admitted, “I was trying to get as many of them as I could.”

Goetz was the scrawny guy with the big glasses, the nerd who had finally had enough and got his revenge. He was every New Yorker fed up with crime, drugs, graffiti, and litter. Overnight, he became a superhero. Except…

Bernie Goetz was none of those things. He was a coward who probably pissed a little in his pants with each pull of the trigger. He fled the train after the shooting. Hell, he fled the city, renting a car and driving to Vermont where he burned the clothes he wore and disposed of the gun. After nine days of moving from motel to motel, always paying in cash, he finally turned himself in to authorities in Concord, NH.

Goetz said of himself, “People are looking for a hero or they`re looking for a villain, and neither is the truth. What this is . . . and you won’t understand–this is survival instinct.”

Goetz was charged with attempted murder, assault, reckless endangerment, and several firearms offenses. The only charge the jury convicted him for was a single count of carrying an firearm without a license.

A neighbor of Bernie’s had testified that Goetz said at a neighborhood meeting in 1983 that, “The only way we’re going to clean up this street is to get rid of the spics and niggers.”

NAACP Director Benjamin Hooks said, “The jury verdict was inexcusable. … It was proven – according to his own statements – that Goetz did the shooting and went far beyond the realm of self-defense. There was no provocation for what he did.”

Congressman Floyd Flake added, “I think that if a black had shot four whites, the cry for the death penalty would have been almost automatic.”

The United States Attorney for New York was asked to investigate and determined that Goetz’ motivation had been fear for his safety and not racial animus. A decade later, that U.S. Attorney, Rudolph Giuliani, would be elected mayor of New York City.

Rudy’s findings aside, Goetz was motivated by race, and admitted such in a 2007 interview saying that while fear had been the primary motivator, that the young men were black enhanced his fear.

Assemblyman Al Vann reacted to the verdict this way in 1985, “It’s now open season on black youths in New York City.”

In April 2015, when discussing the deaths of Walter Scott, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and Anthony Hill at the hands of police, Georgia Congressman Hank Johnson lamented, “It feels like open season on black men in America, and I’m outraged.”

Thirty years had passed. New York City had become one of the safest big cities in America. And the biggest civil rights issue being discussed was still the continuing slaughter of young black men perceived as threats by armed white men with guns.

And remember, Johnson’s lament was before Donald Trump was elected President in 2016, an election which further emboldened angry white men to seek out those to blame for the state of our society. Another coward talking tough and presenting himself as a New York vigilante.

 

 

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