On December 22, 1984, these were the words uttered by 19 year old Troy Canty of the Bronx right before Bernie Goetz shot him in the chest. The shooting happened on the southbound 2 train just as it left the 14th Street station. The shooting would capture the attention of a New York City that was experiencing the early days of what would become the crack epidemic.
On the afternoon of December 22, four teens from the Bronx got on the subway to take a trip into Manhattan. They were, self-admittedly, not going to do some sightseeing. They planned on robbing a downtown video arcade. The crew observed a thin, nerdy looking, 37 year old Bernard Goetz get on the train at 14th Street and figured that they might have a soft target. They were incorrect. The four teens approached Goetz in what he later described as a menacing way. When Troy Canty asked Goetz for $5, Goetz pulled out a .38 caliber 5 shot revolver and opened fire. He hit all four teens, causing serious injuries.
Although Goetz later claimed that the shooting was justified, he did a pretty solid job of running away. After taking a few moments to absorb what he did, Goetz fled the train. He ran on the tracks and through the tunnel to the Chambers Street Station where he then fled topside. He then rented a car and drove to Vermont. After burning his clothing, Goetz threw away his gun. The next few day were spent in hotels, paying cash under an assumed name. The NYPD had already been tipped off that he may be the shooter and had been in his building looking for him. After 10 days, Goetz determined that this was not a viable life plan. He tuned himself in to the Concord, New Hampshire Police and confessed to the shooting. Goetz was retuned to New York and faced four counts of attempted murder, assault, reckless endangerment, and one count of criminal possession of a weapon.
The media circus that occurred next lasted for months. “The Subway Vigilante” captured the attention of both supporters and detractors. The initial grand jury refused to indict Goetz for anything but the weapons charge due to the lack of cooperation of the “victims” (who all had criminal records). Appeals were made, and a second grand jury returned indictments on all counts. Goetz plead not guilty and took his case to trial. He was convicted on the one count of criminal possession of a weapon. After more appeals than any case we can remember, he served eight months in jail.
Goetz’s case captured the public’s attention because many sympathized with him. New Yorkers were sick of crime and felt helpless. Unfortunately, things wouldn’t get better for almost a decade. Crack wars, wolfpack subway robberies, and stolen car radios would just be the way life was in Fun City until Giuliani and Bratton said enough is enough.
PHOTO BY CALONIUS, ERIK - HTTPS://WWW.FLICKR.COM/PHOTOS/USNATIONALARCHIVES/3769852722, PUBLIC DOMAIN, HTTPS://COMMONS.WIKIMEDIA.ORG/W/INDEX.PHP?CURID=9398892