December 22

This Day in History

General Interest

Dec 22, 1984:

The Bernhard Goetz subway shooting

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.

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