22 December

Bernhard Hugo Goetz is a New York City man known for shooting four young men when they tried to mug him on a New York City Subway train in Manhattan on this day in 1984.

He fired five shots, seriously wounding all four men. Nine days later he surrendered to police and was eventually charged with attempted murder, assault, reckless endangerment, and several firearms offences. A jury found him not guilty of all charges except for one count of carrying an unlicensed firearm, for which he served eight months of a one-year sentence. In 1996, one of the shot men, who had been left paraplegic and brain damaged as a result of his injuries, obtained a civil judgement of $43 million against Goetz.

The incident sparked a nationwide debate on race and crime in major cities, the legal limits of self-defence, and the extent to which the citizenry could rely on the police to secure their safety. Although Goetz, dubbed the “Subway Vigilante” by New York City’s press, came to symbolize New Yorkers’ frustrations with the high crime rates of the 1980s, he was both praised and vilified in the media and public opinion. The incident has also been cited as a contributing factor to the groundswell movement against urban crime and disorder, and the successful National Rifle Association campaigns to loosen restrictions on the concealed carrying of firearms.