History Podcasts

Subway shooter Bernhard Goetz goes on the lam

Subway shooter Bernhard Goetz goes on the lam

Bernhard Goetz, who shot four young Black men on a subway car the previous day, flees New York City and heads for New Hampshire after becoming the central figure in a media firestorm.

On the afternoon of December 22, Troy Canty, Barry Allen, Darrell Cabey and James Ramseur reportedly approached Goetz as he was riding the subway and demanded $5. Goetz pulled out a .38 caliber Smith and Wesson revolver and shot each of the boys in response. He then shot Cabey a second time, severing his spinal cord. After refusing to give up his gun, he walked to the end of train, jumped onto the tracks, and disappeared.

Immediately catching the public’s attention, the case ignited serious debate and controversy. While the so-called “Subway Vigilante” was on the lam in New Hampshire, police discovered that three of the shooting victims had been carrying screwdrivers in their pockets during the attempted mugging and all had criminal records. Many observers immediately used this information as justification for Goetz’s behavior, congratulating him for standing up to the boys.

Goetz turned himself in to New Hampshire police on December 31. Back in New York, he was released on $50,000 bail while a grand jury was convened. Goetz was initially indicted on only three counts of illegal gun possession, but prosecutors were dissatisfied with the insignificant charges, and the grand jury reconvened in March. This time they charged Goetz with four counts of attempted murder. The victims also instituted civil suits.

During the criminal trial, which began in December 1986, Goetz attempted to persuade jurors that he had acted in self-defense. To this end, the defense highlighted the fact that Goetz had been mugged in 1981 and the accused attacker was charged only with “mischievous mischief.” Goetz was found not guilty on all criminal charges but was found guilty for violating one minor gun statute, for which he received a one-year sentence. However, in the civil trial, Goetz was ordered to pay a multimillion-dollar sum for paralyzing Darrell Cabey.


Two Shootings, 30 Years Apart, Linked by Fear

R egardless of the grand jury&rsquos decision, America&rsquos response to the shooting of an unarmed black teen by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., this year has been, predominantly, one of outrage. Officer Darren Wilson has fallen so far out of public favor that his unpopularity became an uneasy punchline in a Saturday Night Live skit (albeit one that didn&rsquot air) in which a chef with a similar name has it pulled from the cover of his newly-published cookbook.

Thirty years ago today, on Dec. 22, an altogether different story played out on a New York City subway car, when a white man shot four black youths he believed were about to mug him &mdash and instead of being reviled, he was celebrated. Before his name was known, newspapers dubbed him the &ldquosubway vigilante,&rdquo and many New Yorkers hailed him as a hero. When Bernhard Goetz finally turned himself in to the police, Joan Rivers reportedly sent him a telegram signed &ldquolove and kisses,&rdquo offering to help pay his bail.

Why was Goetz glorified while Wilson has been broadly reviled? There is the obvious point that Goetz, a scrawny electrical engineer who carried a .38 revolver inside his windbreaker, was not a law enforcement officer but a civilian who attempted to enforce the law as he saw fit &mdash and many Americans seemed to view him as a triumphant underdog. A police officer would have been held to a different standard, then as now. But the magnitude of the recent public outcry over Brown&rsquos death (and perhaps more tellingly over the death of Trayvon Martin two years ago) suggests that similar vigilantism would not be received as warmly today.

Despite their outward differences, both Goetz and Wilson identified the same motivation in using lethal force: fear. And one other thing the cases may have in common, says University of Texas professor Keisha Bentley-Edwards, is the possibility that longstanding racial stereotypes played a part in the threat that both Goetz and Wilson perceived in the moments before they fired shots.

&ldquoThey both describe these primal looks in the eyes of the teenagers that made them decide they needed to use lethal force,&rdquo says Bentley-Edwards, whose research focuses on the racial experiences of youth.

In his confession, Goetz recalled sensing an ineffable, predatory menace from the four teens: &ldquoYou see, what they said wasn’t even so much as important as the look, the look, you see &mdash the body language&hellip They wanted to play with me. You know, it’s kind of like a cat plays with a mouse before, you know.&rdquo

Wilson, in his grand jury testimony, described Brown&rsquos &ldquointense aggressive face,&rdquo explaining, &ldquoThe only way I can describe it, it looks like a demon. That&rsquos how angry he looked.&rdquo

&ldquoThis is not to say that either of them did not feel threatened,&rdquo Bentley-Edwards adds. &ldquoIt&rsquos a question of whether that threat is rational enough to justify the use of force.&rdquo

Fear remains as powerful a motivator today as it was 30 years ago. But 30 years ago the feeling was so prevalent in crime-ridden New York that many people &mdash black and white &mdash identified with Goetz. Between 1965 and 1984, New York’s violent crime rate nearly tripled, thanks in part to an economic crisis and the crack epidemic. The city&rsquos annual murder rate was fast approaching its 1990 peak of 2,245, or an average of six people a day. Bernie Goetz, it appeared, had every reason to think he was about to become one of them.

Compare that to the majority of Americans &mdash 57%, according to a CNN poll &mdash who believe Darren Wilson should have been charged with a crime for shooting Michael Brown. (The CNN poll reflects a much wider chasm between white and non-white opinion, however: 49% of whites said Wilson should face criminal charges, compared to 78% of people of color.)

Goetz rallied support in part because New Yorkers were eager for tales of would-be victims prevailing against the bad guys. His story filled that void &mdash at least initially, according to George Fletcher, a professor at Columbia Law School and the author of A Crime of Self-Defense: Bernhard Goetz and the Law on Trial.

According to news reports, as detailed in Fletcher&rsquos book, the four black youths were &ldquonoisy and boisterous,&rdquo and menacing enough that the other riders had huddled on the opposite end of the subway car when Goetz got on. Two of the young men approached him and insisted that he give them $5. Instead, he pulled out a gun and shot each of them once. Then, as if scripted in a Western, he turned to one and said, &ldquoYou seem to be [doing] all right here&rsquos another,&rdquo and fired the shot that severed the teen&rsquos spinal cord, leaving him brain damaged and partly paralyzed. When the car stopped and a conductor appeared, Goetz walked to the platform between the cars, jumped down, and left through the subway tunnel.

&ldquoA common man had emerged from the shadows of fear. He shot back when others only fantasized their responses to shakedowns on the New York subways,&rdquo Fletcher writes, summarizing the mythology surrounding the shootings. &ldquoLike the Lone Ranger, the mysterious gunman subdues the criminal and disappears into the night.&rdquo

But when the gunman was unmasked a week or so later, he fell almost immediately from the pedestal of public opinion. His lengthy confession revealed a vindictive streak that complicated his apparent heroism and poked holes in his underdog persona.

Once it became clear &mdash as more details of Goetz&rsquos troubled past and racist tendencies emerged &mdash that there was more to his story than justified fear and an attempt to make the subways safe, support for Goetz ebbed. Rampant crime had, it seemed, made New Yorkers so quick to identify with him that they hadn&rsquot stopped to consider the possibility that other, less noble motives might be at work. After that point, accounts tended to portray Goetz as unhinged, though legally sane, says John Inazu, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis who has written about the implications of the Ferguson shooting.

Nonetheless, Goetz eventually served only eight months for criminal possession of a weapon. (Since all four shooting victims survived, he didn&rsquot face murder charges, but could have been convicted of attempted first-degree murder.)

Today, statutes governing police use of force and stand-your-ground laws on the books in many states mean a murder conviction still tends to be unlikely in cases where officers or civilians who fear for their own lives respond by taking someone else&rsquos.

&ldquoThe thirty years between Goetz and the deaths of Brown and Garner have seen many improvements in race relations, but our criminal justice system remains broken in many ways,&rdquo Inazu says. &ldquoSome of these use-of-force, self-defense, and stand-your-ground statutes are incredibly broad. For example, the current Missouri use-of-force statute is likely unconstitutional as written &mdash it permits deadly force to effect an arrest when an officer suspects any felony, which would include someone who has passed a bad check.”

These statutes &mdash and more permissive concealed weapon laws &mdash can be seen as part of the lingering influence of Goetz&rsquos onetime folk-hero status. But more people seem to be questioning the use of lethal force by police officers and civilian vigilantes today, says Bentley-Edwards. She doesn&rsquot see the recent cases as setbacks in the strides America has made toward greater equality and inclusion.

&ldquoI feel like they&rsquore opportunities for more progress, in that they&rsquove forced more frank conversations, and deeper investigations into policies that may be differently applied,&rdquo she says.

The best-case scenario, she says, is that they will lead to new, if awkward, discussions of race and justice &mdash discussions as difficult today as they were 30 years ago, but critical to moving forward. There&rsquos a better chance of that now that the fog of fear that blinded 1980s New York has lifted, and Americans are more likely to scrutinize self-defense stories than to celebrate them.

Read TIME’s original coverage of the Bernhard Goetz case: A Troubled and Troubling Life


Bernhard Goetz On Death Of Man He Shot: "Sounds Like He Was Depressed"

James Ramseur, one of the teens shot by "Subway Vigilante" Bernhard Goetz in 1984, died in an apparent suicide 27 years to the day of the Goetz shooting. Goetz told us in an e-mail, "It sounds like he was depressed."

In 1984, Ramseur, 18, and friends Darrell Cabey, Barry Allen and Troy Canty, all 19, ran across Goetz on a 2 train. Goetz says the teens were trying to mug him, so he fired five times at them from his unlicensed Smith & Wesson. The teens, who claimed they were just panhandling, were all injured and Ramseur, who had been holding a screwdriver, lapsed into a coma. Goetz was acquitted of attempted murder, but served eight and a half months for gun possession charge.

On Thursday, Ramseur, 45, was found in a Bronx motel room, with two empty prescription pill bottles nearby. Goetz said in his e-mail, "It must have seemed weird to him, being raised with violence, spending 25 years in prison, and then coming back to a changed New York. Maybe his suicide was a statement, but I haven't figured it out." Goetz was apparently referring to the many years Ramseur served for raping, sodomizing and robbing a pregnant woman in 1986.

Goetz also said, "I might have met him at a NY Civic meeting about a year ago where [former mayor Ed] Koch was scheduled to speak. He seems to have become an honest person and was working for the caterer. But I'm not sure it was him."

Ron Kuby, who represented Cabey, who is now paralyzed and brain damaged, told the Daily News, "When you’re shot down by a racist madman, and most of the city hails your attacker as a hero, I imagine it takes a toll on your soul. And, apparently, Mr. Ramseur couldn’t take it anymore." And Koch said of Ramseur's death, "It's always sad when someone takes their own life."

Ramseur was sentenced for contempt of court during Goetz's trial, for repeatedly not cooperating as a witness when Goetz's lawyer, Barry Slotnick, was questioning him. A Times article from 1987 reports, "The trial judge said the young man's behavior before the jury had conveyed 'viciousness and selfishness more eloquently than words could.'"


Shooting victims: where are they now?

The following are brief sketches of the four shooting victims of subway gunman Bernhard Goetz:

James Ramseur: born Aug. 15, 1966, of the Bronx, was shot in the arm and chest by Goetz. He is now serving a prison sentence of eight-and-one-third years to 25 years in state prison for rape. He was conivcted of raping, sodomizing, and robbing at gunpoint an 18-year-old woman on a rooftop in the Bronx on May 5, 1985. A little more than a month earlier on March 26, 1985, Ramseur was arrested for faking his own kidnapping. He claimed he was grabbed by two men in a car and later escaped. He apparently told the tale to test the reaction of police. Ramseur previously had served a 60-day jail term for two thefts in the Bronx and Manhattan and had a long record of juvenile crimes.

Barry Allen: born Jan. 10, 1966, of the Bronx, was shot in the back by Goetz. He is serving one and one-third to four years in state prison for a probation violation following his arrest for gold-chain snatching in his apartment building in October 1985. He was on probation for an earlier chain-snatching that occurred before the subway shooting.

Troy Canty: born Sept. 9, 1965, of the Bronx, was wounded by Geotz. He is currently in Phoenix House, a drug-rehabilitation center in Westchester County, which he entered nearly two years ago as part of a criminal sentence. He had pleaded guilty to taking $14 worth of coins from two video games in a bar two weeks before the subway shooting. For the past year, Canty has been in the center voluntarily, his lawyer said. The young man plans to go to school. Canty has filed a $6 million civil suit against Goetz. He also asked the state Crime Victims Board for compensation for his injuries, but the board rejected his plea last June because it felt he was going to rob Goetz.

Darrell Cabey: born Aug. 26, 1965, was left paralyzed from the waist down and severely brain damaged in the subway shooting. He was hospitalized for more than a year following the shooting, and now lives at home with his mother in the Bronx. Attorneys for Cabey have filed a $50 million civil suit against Goetz. On Sept. 10, 1985, an armed robbery charge filed against him before he was gunned down by Goetz was dropped because of the injures he suffered in the subway shooting.


30 Years After Bernhard Goetz, a Subway Shooting Evokes Comparisons

An altercation in the New York City subway a concealed handgun pulled from its holster shots fired straphangers running widespread media coverage.

Those words describe a March 10 incident in which a former correction officer named William Groomes, 69, shot and killed a 32-year-old man during evening rush hour at the Borough Hall subway station in Brooklyn. But they also describe an incident well known to those New Yorkers who recall the days of graffiti-covered trains, higher crime rates and Bernhard Goetz, nicknamed the "subway vigilante" three decades ago after he shot a group of teenagers, one of whom had approached Goetz for money.

While the media this week was quick to compare the two subway shootings, Goetz doesn't see too many similarities. "Other than both happened on the subway, there are no comparisons," he said by email. Then he conceded: "One similarity is troublemakers got shot."

In December 1984, three days before Christmas, Goetz, a white man who was then 37, left his apartment near Union Square in Manhattan. He boarded a No. 2 train and sat on the long Plexiglas bench. Four black teenagers&mdashBarry Allen, Troy Canty, Darrell Cabey and James Ramseur&mdashwere in the subway car, traveling from the South Bronx housing project where they lived to a video arcade, where they planned to break into machines with screwdrivers.

According to the now widely accepted narrative, Canty walked over to Goetz and said, "Give me $5." Goetz would later say it was the grin on Canty's face and the look in his eyes that made Goetz feel afraid. So Goetz stood up, unzipped his jacket, pulled out an unlicensed silver .38 Smith and Wesson revolver and put one bullet in Canty and each of his friends. They survived, but with serious injuries.

Someone on the train pulled the emergency brake and, after a brief confrontation with the conductor ("They tried to rip me off," Goetz reportedly told him), Goetz jumped down to the tracks and ran through the tunnel to the Chambers Street station. There, he went out to the street, hailed a taxi and returned to his apartment. Just over an hour later, he was in a blue AMC Eagle rental car heading north, away from the city that would soon be in a frenzy to find him.

In the days after the shooting, locals lauded the unidentified gunman as a hero. They saw him as a vigilante standing up in the face of the 14,000 subway crimes that happened each year, about 38 every day. In 1982, even the head of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said he didn't let his teenage son ride the subway at night.

"If you look at the crime rate now compared to 30 years ago, it's like you're on a different planet," says Michael Jacobson, director of the CUNY Institute for State and Local Governance and former New York City correction commissioner.

The day after the shooting, the New York Post published an editorial that addressed the gunman: "The editors and reporters of this newspaper understand your anger and frustration.&hellip We endure the same fear and anger that exploded in you Saturday."

Goetz spent nine days bouncing between motels under fake names and returned briefly to New York City. He told a neighbor by phone, "I'd rather put a bullet in my head" than go to the police.

But he changed his mind. On New Year's Eve, in the final hours of 1984, he confessed to police in Concord, New Hampshire. New York City law enforcement officials came to interrogate and apprehend him an assistant district attorney cut her holiday ski trip short and flew in a two-seater plane to get there.

"Nothing I've got to say is going to make sense," Goetz told the officials, according to video records. He compared what had happened to water building up behind a dam, or a rat getting cornered and poked with "red-hot needles." "What happened here is I snapped," he told them. "They were intending to play with me like a cat plays with a mouse," he said, referring to the four teens.

Then he said the lines that prosecutors would jump on in court: "I wanted to kill those guys. I wanted to maim those guys. I wanted to make them suffer in every way I could&hellip. If I had more bullets, I would have shot them all again and again. My problem was I ran out of bullets."

He also confessed to telling one of the boys, "You seem fine, here's another." His defense attorneys would later say that Goetz was delusional during his confession.

In the criminal trial, the jury found that Goetz had acted in self defense and was guilty only on charges related to having an unlicensed firearm. But the family of one of the teens, who was paralyzed from the shooting, sued Goetz in civil court in 1996 and won $43 million. (Goetz didn't comment to Newsweek on how much of that he's paid.) Since then, Goetz has run unsuccessfully for public office twice. The teens he shot have faced decades of problems, including incarceration and drug addiction one died from a drug overdose in 2011, on the 27th anniversary of the subway shooting. It was considered a possible suicide.

These days, Goetz lives in the same building near Union Square where he has lived since the shooting and has become an advocate for New York City's squirrel population and for marijuana legalization. (Police arrested him in 2013 for selling pot to an undercover officer charges were later dropped.) He spends his time nursing squirrels at a nearby park and cemetery. The squirrels keep him "pretty busy," he said by email.

As for the Borough Hall shooting, details are still emerging. So far, Groomes, the shooter, has only faced questioning.

Barry Slotnick, who represented Goetz in the criminal case, says the initial comparison between the two subway shootings is obvious. "When I heard it was a subway, I said I was going to get a lot of calls today," he says.

But the Goetz case could prove even more relevant to the Borough Hall shooting, should a grand jury decide to indict Groomes. Starting with the Goetz trial, the law of self-defense changed, so that defense lawyers had to prove that any reasonable person also would have felt their clients' actions were necessary.

"The burden of proof changed drastically," Slotnick says about the Goetz case. "I had to prove that the whole world would have fired and shot in the subway car."

Mark Baker, who also defended Goetz in the criminal case, says it's problematic that in the Borough Hall shooting, Groomes appears to have pursued one of the men inside the station and was not necessarily cornered in a subway car. "Following these guys off the train with a weapon out, that to me is going to require some explanation," Baker says.

An attorney for Groomes, Peter Troxler, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.


This Day in History: Dec 23, 1984: Bernhard Goetz goes on the lam

Bernhard Goetz, who shot four young black men on a subway car the previous day, flees New York City and heads for New Hampshire after becoming the central figure in a media firestorm.

On the afternoon of December 22, Troy Canty, Barry Allen, Darrell Cabey, and James Ramseur reportedly approached Goetz as he was riding the subway and demanded $5. Goetz pulled out a .38 caliber Smith and Wesson revolver and shot each of the boys in response. He then shot Cabey a second time, severing his spinal cord. After refusing to give up his gun, he walked to the end of train, jumped onto the tracks, and disappeared.

Immediately catching the public's attention, the case ignited serious debate and controversy. While the so-called "Subway Vigilante" was on the lam in New Hampshire, police discovered that three of the shooting victims had been carrying screwdrivers in their pockets during the attempted mugging and all had significant criminal records. Many observers immediately used this information as justification for Goetz's behavior, congratulating him for standing up to the boys.

Goetz turned himself in to New Hampshire police on December 31. Back in New York, he was released on $50,000 bail while a grand jury was convened. Goetz was initially indicted on only three counts of illegal gun possession, but prosecutors were dissatisfied with the insignificant charges, and the grand jury reconvened in March. This time they charged Goetz with four counts of attempted murder. The victims also instituted civil suits.

During the criminal trial, which began in December 1986, Goetz attempted to persuade jurors that he had acted in self-defense. To this end, the defense highlighted the fact that Goetz had been mugged in 1981 and the accused attacker was charged only with "mischievous mischief." Goetz was found not guilty on all criminal charges but was found guilty for violating one minor gun statute, for which he received a one-year sentence. However, in the civil trial, Goetz was ordered to pay a multimillion-dollar sum for paralyzing Darrell Cabey, although it is unlikely that Cabey will ever receive the money.


FBI agent charged in off-duty shooting of man on subway

Valdivia was on his way to work on the morning of the shooting when he was confronted by a man who Bonsib said “engaged in threatening and aggressive behavior" at close range.

When the man asked Valdivia for money on the train, the agent said no and the man muttered expletives while walking away, Senior Assistant State’s Attorney Robert Hill said during Tuesday's hearing. Valdivia told the man, “Watch your mouth,” and the man turned around and approached Valdivia, who told him to back up multiple times. Valdivia shot the man from 2 to 3 feet away, Hill said, and did not identify himself as an agent until after the shooting.

“One does not wait to be physically attacked — one does not wait until the threat has 'hands on you — before one is authorized to defend oneself,” Bonsib wrote in his statement. “Neither does one need to retreat — when retreat is not possible — as was not possible here when Eddie Valdivia was seated at the end of the Metro car” with his back against the wall and “no clear exit path.”

Bonsib also signaled his plans to invoke in his client's defense the background of the man who was shot in asserting that the shooting was justified. He attached documents showing a lengthy criminal history that he said matched the identity of the shooting victim, including arrests for prior sexual misconduct — such as exposing himself — as well as unprovoked physical attacks. Bonsib said court records indicate the wounded man has a history of unpredictable and violent behavior, including an 2019 incident in which the man allegedly attacked and threatened to kill somebody at a Metro station.

The indictment names the man who was shot and also a second man, who it identifies as the victim of the reckless endangerment charge.

In a 911 call released in January, a witness said the agent had warned the man to back away, but the man ignored the command and instead prepared to fight him, the Washington Post reported.

“The FBI agent said: ‘Move away. I’m an FBI agent. Back away,’ ” the 911 caller said. “The other gentleman didn’t, dropped his bag, approached him to fight him.”

The caller said the FBI agent was attacked by the other passenger but did not describe how.

There’s a lot going on here and I have no idea what the laws are in this area for self defense but this doesn’t sound cut and dry. The agent sounds like he has a defense BASED ON THIS ARTICLE but I have no idea the entirety of the circumstances nor have I seen the tape. There are also conflicting accounts on when he identified himself as law enforcement.


Bernie Goetz ‘The Subway Gunman’ 30 Years Later

New York – -(Ammoland.com)- Thirty years ago the inviolate right to self-defense and the battle over firearm civil liberties were joined in one of the unlikeliest of battle zones — New York City.

Riding a southbound express train in lower Manhattan, a slight of build navy contractor rode that subway car into gun lore history — his name was Bernard Goetz dubbed — “the subway gunman” — defending himself and every other scared New Yorker to ride the underground.

(Ironically, at the time Mr. Goetz’s naval contract was to protect all of humanity by creating a safeguard against terrorists stealing nuclear weapons.)

In a scene eerily reminiscent of Charles Bronson in the Hollywood hit “Death Wish” four punks threatened and attempted to rob their victim, but enclosed within that graffiti encrusted rail car the “hare turned around and bit the hound” he fired his Smith and Wesson 5 shot 38-caliber revolver into his would-be muggers. The bumper stickers were everywhere in NYC – “Ride with Bernie — he Goetz ’em”!

The crime rate in the dangerous subways plunged dramatically –– so much so the authorities even held back the numbers — the truth hurt too much.

Bernie Goetz wasn’t caught immediately. It was a brief hiatus allowing the incident to grow into an international media sensation. During a White House press conference in early January Sam Donaldson asked President Reagan his position on the “Goetz shooting.” The next day a young NRA political director held a news conference at the Park Terrace Hotel on 7th Avenue with Roy Innis, National Chairman of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and State Senator Chris Mega from Brooklyn declaring, “A government which cannot protect its citizens has no right denying them the means to protect themselves“! The famed journalist Murray Kempton asked if he was urging vigilantism? His retort, “when will Mayor Koch provide the same level of protection to the citizens who ride the subways and pay their taxes that he enjoys surrounded by a phalanx of New York’s finest, oh with guns at the ready”?

It was a good question then and an even better one today – thirty years later!

New York City leaders have maintained that same hypocritical, elitist, racist, and demonstrably counter-productive licensing posture then extant under Ed Koch. Mayors Dinkins, Giuliani, Bloomberg and now DiBlasio enforce indignity upon outrage sacrificing the essential human right of self-defense, even life and property. The mealy mouthed subterfuge that the police will protect you — (tragically they can’t always protect themselves witness the assassinations of two cops in Brooklyn on a recent Saturday), is an excuse that costs lives, civilian lives as those of us in the rest of America know all too well. The issue is never the gun (despite politicians blather) but really, “In whose hands are the guns“?

Looking back, it was a defining moment for the emerging gun rights movement led by the National Rifle Association — and I know because I was that young NRA spokesman. The era prior had been about eliminating the right to even own a handgun now the debate would be transformed into the lawful ability to carry one.

The following year Florida passed the first modern “shall issue” statute mandating the issuance of a carry license if the applicant met certain basic standards. No longer could Palm Beach, Broward and Dade Counties Florida prevent their citizens from having the same self-defense rights as other Floridians.

Forty-two states in this country with 72% of the population are now “shall issue” states the inverse of 1984! New York is not one of them. [New Jersey is even less.]

Thirty years is too long to be “allowed” to enforce ones legal and unalienable human rights. It’s time for Congress to enact an intelligent, well designed, National Carry Law so none of us has to fear being in the wrong place at the wrong time without the means to lawfully protect ourselves as Bernie Goetz discovered thirty years ago today.


Modern history of the New York City Subway: Expansion from the 1,2,3, the A, B, C, Second Avenue and beyond

PODCAST The amazing New York City subway system travels hundreds of miles under the earth and elevated through the boroughs. In this episode, we let you in on how it went from one long tunnel in 1904 to the busiest subway on earth.

This is our last episode in our series BOWERY BOYS ON THE GO, and we end it on the expansion of the New York City subway. Find out how some as innocuous sounding as the ‘Dual Contracts’ actually become one of the most important events in the city’s history, creating new underground rounds into Brooklyn, the Bronx and (wondrously!) and finally into Queens.

Then we’ll talk about the city’s IND line, which completes our modern track lines and gives the subway its modern sheen. After listening to this show, you won’t look at the Herald Square subway station the same way again.

ALSO: Bernhard Goetz, Mayor Jimmy Walker and the future present history of the Second Avenue Subway!

The Dual Contracts let the Interborough Rapid Transit (IRT) to expand its lines and opened Manhattan to Brooklyn Rapid Transit (BRT). And it allowed both companies to extend into Queens for the first time. Below is a simplified map from 1920 of extensions into midtown Manhattan and Queens. (Map below is from New York City Subway, the most invaluable resource on the web about subway history.)

The mean tracks of the subway during the 1970s. The price went up, ridership went down, and the whole line fell into disrepair. In John Conn’s photograph below, a destitute station looks abandoned. (You can see a whole gallery of Conn’s subway photographs at the Daily Beast.)

Bernhard Goetz, below at center, was labeled the ‘subway vigilante’ after shooting assailants on the subway in 1984, highlighting how dangerous New York’s subway had become. (Photo from here)

A map of the too-long-in-the-making teal Second Avenue Subway (the T line):

For a more visceral immersion into subway history, visit the New York Transit Museum and walk through the old subway cars contained in an actual, abandoned station. They also have an annex in Grand Central Terminal


The Case that Put Vigilante Violence Front and Center in NYC

The 1984 subway shooting divided the city and the nation, making Bernie Goetz a hero to some and a villain to others. History repeats itself.

How many times can something be divided before it permanently breaks? In a matter of months, the edifice of a United States has become more and more cracked, after repeated blows from a pandemic virus, state-imposed lockdowns, mass unemployment, police shootings, and subsequent riots. The national mood is one of exhaustion and frustration, if not outright anger.

On August 25, Americans were given another thing to divide themselves over. In response to yet another contested police shooting, riots erupted in the city of Kenosha, Wisconsin. During the ensuing chaos, video was taken of an individual in possession of an AR-15 rifle being chased by a group of people, falling to the ground, and then shooting three of his pursuers (one of whom was armed with a handgun). The shooter, 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, was permitted by police to leave the scene, while two of the other men lay on the ground, dead.

Twitter threads, Facebook feeds, and newsrooms are at vitriol capacity as they argue the merits of the shooting. In conditions marked by social upheaval, and as burning buildings lick the background of city streets, the contentious issues of vigilantism and self-defense are being relitigated. The discussions happening right now are downright déjà vu.

Kyle Rittenhouse and the Kenosha shooting could prove to be a contemporary version of the 1984 New York City subway shooting, but with much more deleterious social consequences.

City dwellers still recount horror stories about the New York City of the 1970s and 1980s, when “Fear City” became synonymous with the dangers of urban living. At the start of the period rapes and burglaries tripled, while by the end of the 70s the percentage of fires started through arson had septupled. The homicide rate fluctuated between 21 and 25 murders per 100,000 residents, and by 1980 the New York City subway had become the most dangerous transportation system in the world.

It was in these circumstances that millions of New Yorkers struggled to go through their daily lives, including a mild-mannered electrician named Bernhard “Bernie” Goetz. After an attempted mugging left him injured and his assailants unpunished, Goetz resolved that he would not again be the victim of such routine criminality. When the city rejected his request for a concealed carry permit, due to “insufficient need,” Goetz purchased a 5-shot .38 caliber revolver out-of-state and smuggled it back home.

On December 22, 1984, three days before Christmas, Bernie Goetz sat in a New York City subway car when four black teenagers—three 19-years old and one 18—approached. Surrounding him, one of them demanded, “Give me five dollars.” Goetz pulled out his revolver and proceeded to shoot all four teens, two of them in the back. He fled the train, and then the state.

Three of the teenagers had previously been convicted of crimes (the other only arrested), and all four were already scheduled to appear at either a trial or criminal hearing. Sharpened screwdrivers were found on their persons, although Goetz was unaware of this. Months after the incident one of the boys confirmed to a reporter that they had intended to rob Goetz. Mistaking him for “easy bait,” the confrontation left all four wounded and one paraplegic.

Stories about “the Subway vigilante” swept both the New York City media and the public’s imagination. Comparisons were instantly made to the 1974 film Death Wish, where after the rape and murder of his family, Charles Bronson’s Paul Kersey goes on a one-man killing spree to clean up his city—including shooting attempted muggers on the subway.

Instead of tips to help catch the at-large shooter, police hotlines were inundated with hundreds of calls of support for the still unidentified Goetz. New York Governor Mario Cuomo condemned this “vigilante spirit” among the public. “In the long run, that’s what produces the slaughter of innocent people,” he said. On December 31, Bernie Goetz surrendered himself to authorities. He was charged with several offenses, including attempted murder.

Sympathy for Goetz’s actions was widespread among the contemporary public. Working class New Yorkers, both black and white, knew what it was like to walk in fear on the streets of their own city. In the perception of citygoers, Goetz became a figure of cathartic retribution, and the four teenagers became cutouts for the petty harassment and crime that had enveloped New York.

Others could not overlook the racial aspect of the incident. ”I’m not surprised that you can round up a lynch mob,” said Benjamin Ward, the first black Police Commissioner of New York City, regarding Goetz’s supporters. ”We were always able to do that in this country. I think that the same kind of person that comes out and applauds the lynching is the first that comes out and applauds someone that shoots four kids.”

“In this country, we no longer employ firing squads,” said future Mayor David Dinkins, who believed that Goetz’ actions went far beyond anything appropriate in the criminal justice system.

Bleeding hearts had difficulty comprehending the public enthusiasm. “Don’t they know the danger that’s unleashed when someone starts shooting in a crowded place, when someone takes the law into his own hands?” asked a rhetorical New York Timeseditorial, diagnosing a fed-up public. “Of course they do, but they also know something else, bitterly. Government has failed them in its most basic responsibility: public safety. To take the law into your own hands implies taking it out of official hands. But the law, on that subway car on Dec. 22, was in no one’s hands.”

It is difficult not to come to a similar conclusion today. Police forces nationwide seem incapable of performing at an expected standard. On one hand, police are satisfied to lord over citizens who easily submit, as they regularly bully, harass, and brutalize legions of law-abiding and respectful Americans. But on the other hand, when their authority is challenged, police are quick to drop their “protect and serve” mantra and abandon whole neighborhoods to the mob’s torch. When the state fails, we should not be surprised when individuals act to fill the void.

“This was an occasion when one citizen, acting in self-defense, did what the courts have failed to accomplish time and again,” wrote New York Senator Al D’Amato. “The issue is not Bernhard Hugo Goetz. The issue is the four men who tried to harass him. They, not Mr. Goetz, should be on trial.”

In February 1985, a grand jury declined to prosecute Bernie Goetz for attempted murder. Outside the courthouse, some people protested the leniency, chanting “Bernhard Goetz, you can’t hide we charge you with genocide.” In fact, the only charge brought against him, which he was later convicted of, was carrying an unlicensed firearm. He was sentenced to one year in prison, of which he served eight months.

Thirty years after the subway shooting, I was attending a major libertarian social event in the Big Apple. During a break between scheduled speakers, the MC took to the stage to spontaneously announce that Bernie Goetz, “the Batman of New York City,” was in attendance. I was unaware of who Goetz was at the time and could only identify him as the man on the other side of the room who was suddenly being rushed by people wanting to shake his hand.

We don’t know how Kyle Rittenhouse will be received thirty years hence. After crossing the state line (like Goetz) to his native Illinois, Rittenhouse was arrested on Wednesday and charged with first-degree (premeditated) murder. More details about what preceded the video tape and ignited the confrontation can be expected to come to light in the coming days.

The helplessness that New Yorkers felt decades ago has, due to the untampered riots, exploded in every part of the country. Except now, the political left and right fear each other more than they do an anonymous specter of crime. The broad public sympathy that Goetz received will not be given to Rittenhouse, who is already being labeled either a rightwing terrorist or a man rightfully defending himself.


Bernhard Goetz, 80s NYC Subway Shooter, Arrested for Selling Marijuana

Goetz is making headlines again after allegedly selling pot to an undercover cop.

Bernhard Goetz, the infamous subway vigilante that shot four teens in 1984, was arrested again on Friday for allegedly selling marijuana to an undercover cop.

Goetz, 65, is being charged with the criminal sale of marijuana after meeting with an undercover police officer inside Union Square Park. The two walked to 15th Street and Fifth Avenue, where he allegedly sold the officer $30 worth of marijuana.

Goetz was put in the spotlight in the 80s after his criminal case polarized New York City on the issue of self defense. Goetz said that four black teens &ndash 19-year-olds Barry Allen, Troy Canty and Darrell Cabey, and 18-year-old James Ramseur - blocked him on the subway and demanded money.

Goetz then shot all four of them, leaving one paralyzed. The teens were not armed, but were carrying screwdrivers to allegedly rob an arcade. Goetz admitted to shooting them, and said that he only stopped when he ran out of bullets.

A grand jury declined to indict Goetz on attempted murder charges, causing an uproar throughout the city.

&ldquoI believe that most people believe that the criminal justice system is broken down, and that the rights of society are not adequately protected under the law, under court procedures, under the various things that go into it, and I think that this case gives us the justification to get the legislature and the courts to do a better job,&rdquo Mayor Ed Koch said at the time, according to CBS News.

He later faced another grand jury, and was charged with four counts of attempted murder. He was found guilty of criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree, and was acquitted of all other charges.

He spent six months in jail, had five years of probation and had to pay a $5,000 fine.

Goetz was also sued by one of the victims of the shooting in 1996. The victim was awarded $43 million.

Goetz also ran for public office. In 2001, he ran for mayor of New York city, and in 2005 he ran for public advocate. He lost both elections.