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This Day In History, 1984

Exactly twenty years ago today:


On the New York City subway, Bernhard Goetz, a 45-year-old white male, shoots four young black men after they surround him and ask for $5. After wounding three of the unarmed men, Goetz pointed his gun at 18-year-old Darrell Cabey, who was not wounded but cowering terrified in the subway car, and said, "You don't look too bad, here's another." Goetz then shot Cabey in the back, severing his spinal cord. Three of the youths recovered, but Cabey was paralyzed and suffered permanent brain damage.

Goetz, who fled the scene of the crime, turned himself in to police in New Hampshire nine days later. During his subsequent interrogation, Goetz admitted on videotape that when one of the threatening young men smirked at him, he wanted to "kill them all." The seemingly racially motivated shooting caused considerable controversy in New York and around the country, especially after Goetz pleaded innocent to charges of attempted murder in the subsequent criminal trial.

Goetz's lawyers argued that the men were trying to rob him and that he was only acting in self-defense, while the prosecution maintained that the four young men were merely panhandling. The case proved particularly divisive in New York City, where racial tensions were high. In 1987, Goetz was cleared of murder and assault charges, but was convicted of illegal gun possession and served 250 days in prison. In April 1996, Darrell Cabey won a civil lawsuit against Goetz and was awarded $43 million by a Bronx jury. Goetz declared bankruptcy soon after the rulings.

From today's Houston Chronicle (http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/ssistory.mpl/nation/2951469):

At the time, there were 15,000 felonies a year on average in the subway — more than 40 every day around the nation's largest mass transit system. Twenty years later, there were just 2,760 felonies reported through Nov. 14. Killings in the subways, which topped out at 26 in 1990, are at zero for the year.

Subway ridership is at about 4.5 million riders daily; back then, the number of straphangers was in freefall, with one out of every four passengers abandoning the subways between 1965 and 1982. In 1984, ridership was at about 2.7 million per day.
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The Chronicle's implication is, of course, that one Honest Straphanger (TM) shooting back was what turned around the rampant crime wave and made the subways safe for white folks again. Actually it was the work of Bill Bratton's police force, which arrived on the scene somewhat later.
The New York Post also seems to be somewhat pro-Goetz. From their editorial (http://www.nypost.com/postopinion/editorial/36845.htm):

"A Goetz-like incident today seems almost inconceivable.

As for Goetz himself, he received a measure of vindication when it turned out that three of his attackers quickly resumed their criminal careers. One of them served more than eight years for robbery, rape and assault; the fourth remains paralyzed from Goetz's bullets — all stark reminders that a life of crime can be a risky business.

Still, it's worth remembering that if those bullets had been fired at Bernhard Goetz instead of by him, there would have been no headlines.

No notoriety.

Just the silence of the grave."

Hm. My weird train of thought is branching from the idea of Goetz's influence (whatever the truth of the matter may be) to something I read in an rpg called Victoriana, saying that the single figure most responsible for social reform in Victorian Britain was Jack the Ripper, because during the murder investigation, public attention was drawn to just how bad the lower classes had it. I don't know if that's true, but it's a thought my mind keeps chewing on, just like the idea that if Goetz had been the shootee instead of the shooter, it would have been just one of those things. Hm. Not trying to draw parallels. Just staring thoughtfully at my computer screen.
Actually, that sounds like a reasonable parallel. After all, no one can deny that the shooting had major influence in both New York and American history.
He was on Larry King Live last Friday. I couldn't hear what was said, as I was "at pizza" and only saw him on the TVs by the bar. But he was there for the full hour of the show.

December 2016

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