The Subway Vigilante Of New York City

“The last time anybody made a list of the top hundred character attributes of New Yorkers, common sense snuck in at number 79.” —Douglas Adams

In A Nutshell

During a peak of violent crime in New York City, ordinary guy Bernhard Goetz made international headlines when he defended himself from an attempted mugging in a subway car by shooting his four attackers. He became known as the “Subway Vigilante.”

The Whole Bushel

In 1981, Bernhard Goetz was one of many New Yorkers to fall prey to violent crime. He had been beaten and mugged by three assailants, none of whom were successfully prosecuted, and like many New Yorkers, he was tired of living in fear of being attacked. Unlike most, he was prepared when it came—with a five-shot .38 revolver and plenty of practice using it.

While on his afternoon subway commute in December of 1984, four youths assumed threatening positions around him—isolating him near the back of the car—and he quickly mapped out a rapid pattern of fire. One of the young men, Troy Canty, said, “Give me five dollars.” Some details of what happened next are in dispute, but the following is agreed upon.

Goetz quickly stood and stepped away from Canty while drawing his revolver and saying something to the effect of, “I have five dollars for each of you.” He then fired four shots within just a couple seconds, examined another of the men, Darrell Cabey, and said something like, “You don’t seem too bad.” He then fired again in Cabey’s direction. A main point of dispute during Goetz’s trial was whether his fourth or fifth shot struck Cabey. One struck the train wall, and the other severed Cabey’s spinal cord, rendering him paralyzed.

Amazingly, though all were shot, none of the men who accosted Goetz were killed. To many New Yorkers, Goetz was something of a folk hero; to others, he was psychotic at best and a racist at worst (all four of his attackers were black). His trial was as spectacular as it was divisive; Goetz claimed self-defense, while the men he shot claimed they were simply panhandling and hadn’t threatened Goetz. In the end, the jury disagreed (the sharpened screwdrivers carried by the youths might have had something to do with it), acquitting Goetz of attempted murder and assault, but convicting him on a weapons charge, for which he served 250 days. Cabey was later awarded $43 million in a civil suit. Goetz filed bankruptcy, and claims not to have paid a dime.

Show Me The Proof

Bernhard Goetz: Biography
The Bernhard Goetz subway shooting
Bernhard Goetz’s victim dies on anniversary of shooting
Interview with “Subway Vigilante” Bernhard Goetz

  • gillybean

    My boss once told me this story; he had been at the bookies and had about £1500 in winnings in his coat pocket. He got the train home but when he got to the station at the other end he got paranoid and felt like someone was following him. He sped up and as he was going up the steps to the exit, someone grabbed his arm. He turned and punched the guy in the mouth at which point the stranger told him he’d dropped his winnings and he was trying to return them! After getting his money back, my boss did give him £100. Punch first, ask questions later isn’t always the best policy.

    • 1timeposter

      great story, nice moral too. thanks for sharing. ^_^

    • W357C0457

      maybe the actual moral of that story is to keep your mouth shut when you find a wad of cash

      • gillybean

        Are you familiar with the word “theft”? If you knowingly take something that isn’t yours, you’re a thief. None of that finders-keepers bull.

        • W357C0457

          its not theft if its not in anyones possession. finders keepers counts for everything else in this world (land for example), so why not a wad of cash? get your morality out of here, if i see a stack its going straight to my pocket, and if you think youd do different you are probably lying to yourself

          • gillybean

            Or maybe I just got morals where you’re lacking. I’ve worked in a lot of places where your attitude would get you not only dismissed but prosecuted. And whining their right mind would ever trust you, knowing that you think that way?

      • the big un

        yeah defo if ya stupid enough to drop it ya dont deserve it

  • Hillyard

    While I have no sympathy for the guys who mugged him (including the one in a wheelchair) this is another case of shooting when just brandishing the gun would probably have done the trick.

    • Jimmy

      Not necessarily. If he had just pulled out the gun, the four robbers could have stabbed him to death with their screwdrivers. The fact none of them died at close range seems like Goetz didn’t try to kill. I think what he did was fair. You can’t take the chance and when you pull a gun on someone you have to be ready to use it.

      • Hillyard

        They, as far as I can tell from the article, did not have the screwdrivers in their hands. And most people will think ‘he has a gun, I have a screwdriver, time to go somewhere else.’ Of course the four muggers may have been too stupid to be capable of such reasoning.

        • Eddie Wienbauer

          I know this is an old post,but I figured i reply anyway.
          I recall hearing that they actually confessed to planning on robbing him,and they were on their way to break into arcade machines for money.
          So I highly doubt they were just asking him for money cause he seems like a nice old man.
          I’d say he did the right thing.But since black luuve to play the minority card,they made it about racism.
          I have no doubt he hated them,and he might bee a racist.But they went up to him,not the other way around. So im my eyes that makes em guilty black,blue,or yellow,or a friggin martian. I don’t care.

    • David TehGnome

      I feel like a lot of people who are uncomfortable with gun ownership, but remain unwilling (perhaps wisely so) to brook the considerable support for it among regular folks by coming right out and saying so, speak as you do. Imposing post incident self defense rules on would be victims, he shot too many times or he shouldn’t have shot at all. That person should have brandished the gun and ran away screaming or put the lead mugger in an arm bar and transitioned into a 360 leg sweep while apologizing for looking racist… While of course I exaggerate, the basic tenor of your post strikes me as mealy mouthed and dishonest.

      • Hillyard

        I have no problem with responsible gun ownership. The problems arise when they see firing their guns as the solution to everything. There are numerous cases where gun owners have shot and wounded or killed criminals when no other solution was available. Fine with me. The military has rules of engagement for the soldiers pulling guard duty, and are forced to fire their weapon. 1 Warning shot. 2. Shoot to wound. (Not as easy as people think, arms/legs present a small target.) 3. Shoot to kill as a last resort. When you are armed (with a firearm) and your attackers not, demonstrating the will to shoot will make most of those scumbags back down. If I had a gun aimed at a mugger or number of muggers, and I thought one of them was reaching for a firearm, I would not hesitate to shoot. I might try to wound, but center mass is always the best target. Still I believe that having a gun pointed at someone, not just pulling and shooting (of course exceptions apply I’m not stupid) will usually be sufficient self-defense.

        • Richard Thompson

          I agree with most of what you say. I was a military policeman and have been lucky enough to not serve in a combat capacity. What we’re at law enforcement “A” school was to shoot to stop the threat. If the target dies… Oh we’ll.
          If they’re only wounded that’s better of course.

    • Richard Thompson

      Sorry. But that’s just plain stupid. You never point a weapon at something you don’t intend to kill. If he had done that, there was the very substantial and very likely risk of getting rushed, disarmed and then stabbed with one of those screw drivers or shot with his own gun.

      • Hillyard

        You don’t point a weapon at someone your are not PREPARED to kill. Small, but significant difference. He shot all his attackers, didn’t kill anyone, paralyzed one. They did not rush him, or take his weapon and turn it on him. This was not the first time he had been mugged, this leads me to believe that he reacted out of fear/anger both of which can be deadly when someone is armed. Once again I have no sympathy for his attackers, fuck them they’re responsible for what happened to them, but I still feel that PERHAPS (and I will admit that I am ‘armchair quarterbacking’ here) just drawing his weapon might have been enough to prevent them from attacking further.

        • Richard Thompson

          I didn’t say that they did rush him. Because they didn’t get a chance to. Granted I too am armchair quarterbacking. But let’s look at the following scenario. Let’s say all he did was show off his weapon and scare them off. They could have waited for him to disembark the train and not be paying attention and shank him from behind. There are an endless amount of possibilities about what could’ve happened. But what did happen was he felt threatened and defended himself.

          • Hillyard

            Very true, like I said I have no sympathy for the asshats that attacked him.

    • aussieshepherd

      If you are not going to shoot, you shouldn’t pull a gun. They got what they had coming.

  • Stefan

    So you have to pay for defending yourself? Let’s be realistic here folk. if you’re actually in a situation like this, you can’t really go “hmm,. I have to defend myself, but how do i do it without causing any harm to these upstanding gents accosting me” Real life isn’t like a movie or a video game. people need to factor that in. If you sit back rationally analyze it, you could proably go “hmm he could have done this, or that” but realistically it just doesn’t happen

  • sbw

    I lived in NY when this happened. Goetz wasn’t “kind of a hero”; he was a celebrated man who everybody identified with. Threaten a person with physical harm, and you deserve what you get, plain and simple. The civil award was the work of uber-douche bag radical attorney Ron Kuby and an idiotic jury.

  • Tyler

    “Amazingly, though all were shot, none of the men who accosted Goetz were killed” -Most gunshot wounds are not fatal. Common misconception

  • chairde

    I actually remember this case. The facts stated are true but some are missing here. The cops could not find out who the shooter was and he stupidly turned himself in and did a newspaper interview also. Well the thugs were black and he is white. It was turned into a racial shooting and the cops arrested him because the media was making a huge deal about this racial shooting. So the lesson is defend yourself then quietly walk away. Don’t talk to anyone and a week later it will be forgotten.

  • rhijulbec

    I’m torn. On the one hand shooting four people is extreme, but on the other hand enough is enough. I don’t suppose these men were just going to say ”thanks anyway” if told no, so what a person to do? Defending yourself is not a bad thing!

  • W357C0457

    Damn are people really getting paid for taking out one item from a listverse list and submitting here

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