Bernard Goetz, after suffering a brutal beating by muggers and receiving no justice, later took the law into his own hands. Dubbed the Subway Vigilante in the press, Bernard Goetz shot four teens that he described as thugs. He said he believed they intended to attack him because they surrounded him in a threatening manner and told him to give them money.
He believed he was literally in the process of being mugged. They claimed they were simply panhandling. Because the teens were black and Bernard Goetz was white, there was also racial tension associated with the case.
Bernard Goetz stated that he was “offended” by the system, a system that allowed the public to be preyed upon, but then treated him as a criminal for defending himself. That the system invested so many resources to prosecute him but little to protect the public and assist victims was incomprehensible to him. Many people supported his position. Others believed him to be a racist or no better than a thug for having shot the boys.
Goetz felt that the New York Subway, and New York City itself, were dangerous and lawless at the time. He said people could not expect help from the authorities and that the police were told not to make arrests because the courts and the jails were overburdened. He refused to live in fear or to endure another brutal beating without fighting back. He said he didn’t regret what he did. He admitted that it hadn’t been good for his life but at the same time, he felt it was a turning point for New York and that good had come of it.
While it is not advised for people to become vigilantes, many agreed that the actions of Bernard Goetz forced authorities to act. Some even offered money to help pay for his defense. Bernard Goetz was acquitted of attempted murder but was convicted for carrying a weapon. The jury found he had the right to use the gun but did not have the right to carry it. Goetz served eight months in jail for carrying the gun.