Posted on December 22, 2019

The Bernhard Goetz Affair

Frank Borzellieri, American Renaissance, October 1996

Bernhard Goetz

Bernhard Goetz

In April 1996, in a civil courthouse in the Bronx, the unjust saga of Bernhard Goetz finally came to a close. New York’s subway gunman, having endured twelve years that included a criminal trial, eight months in prison, worldwide publicity, and civil lawsuits, was told by a jury of non-whites to pay $43 million to Darrell Cabey, one of the four black hoodlums who tried to rob him.

By now the script and cast are well-known. On December 22, 1984, Bernhard Goetz, a white electronics expert, boarded a New York City subway train. Mr. Goetz was soon surrounded by four black criminals — all with long records of violence — who demanded money. Mr. Goetz, who three years before, had been brutally beaten by a street criminal, decided he would not be a victim again.

Goetz had applied for a pistol carry license. Even after appeals and thousands of dollars in lawyers’ fees, he was turned down by New York’s prohibitionist gun control authorities. He decided to carry an unlicensed weapon. He had gone armed for three years without incident and now realized that his pistol could save his life. Indeed, based on the records of these four thugs, robbery was the most innocent of their intentions.

His assailants moved in on Mr. Goetz, trapping him. He opened fire with a five-shot, .38 caliber Smith & Wesson revolver, hitting all of them. The only noise louder than the shots was the sound of cheering New Yorkers. When police boarded the train looking for the gunman, passengers helped Mr. Goetz get away by sending the officers in the wrong direction. (The story has been widely circulated that Mr. Goetz chased down one of the wounded assailants and shot him again, saying, “You don’t look too bad.” This has been proven to be false.)

When Mr. Goetz surrendered two weeks later, he was the object of an overwhelming show of affection from average citizens and an equally overwhelming attack by the political establishment.

New York Governor Mario Cuomo said Goetz’ actions were “dangerous and wrong.” “We will not tolerate vigilantism,” proclaimed then-Mayor Ed Koch, adding that Mr. Goetz’ actions arose from “the same animal baseness that gave rise to the Holocaust.” While Mr. Goetz was still on the run, Mayor Koch ordered 1,300 policemen onto the manhunt. Real criminals need not have worried about such an effort.

In January 1985, a grand jury refused to indict Mr. Goetz on anything but minor gun charges. In an unprecedented maneuver, and clearly in response to pressure from the likes of black activist Al Sharpton, District Attorney Robert Morgenthau went into a fury and convened a second grand jury. He claimed to have “two secret champagne witnesses” — particularly credible and effective — who turned out to be two of the hoodlums who had attacked Mr. Goetz. Their bogus testimony was used to bring in an indictment for attempted murder and assault.

Mr. Goetz’ detractors convicted him in the press, constantly intoning, “He would not have shot them if they had been white,” or “He could have just shown the gun.” The most curious argument against the shooting was that Mr. Goetz could not have known that the four had criminal records. Of course, it was precisely because Mr. Goetz had never met them that he was afraid of them, and if he had known about their records he would have had even more reason to shoot. With the exception of Darrell Cabey, who was disabled in the shooting, all of the assailants went on to commit more crimes.

Ironically, while the issue of race hovered over the case outside the courtroom, it was never raised during the eight-week criminal trial. Mr. Morgenthau’s office argued only that Mr. Goetz acted recklessly and was a menace to society.

On the witness stand, Troy Canty, the one who made the demand for money, gave his third different public version of the events, and his obviously coached testimony was widely regarded as not credible. James Ramseur, in prison for the brutal rooftop rape of an 18-year-old pregnant black woman (a crime committed just two and a half months after the shooting), was so menacing in the courtroom that jurors silently planned escape routes in case he went berserk. He finally refused to answer questions, screamed obscenities at the judge, and was removed.

Barry Allen, also brought to court from prison, pleaded the Fifth Amendment 21 times. It may have been the first time that a complainant in an attempted murder trial felt his testimony would be self-incriminating. The crippled Mr. Cabey did not testify. The trial ended with a resounding victory for Mr. Goetz, who was found not guilty on all but the most minor weapons possession charge. In keeping with the political pressures of the day, the judge sentenced Mr. Goetz to a year in prison on a charge for which jail time is almost never given. Muggers were delighted. Mr. Goetz served eight months and the case faded from the headlines.

In normal times, it would be preposterous for the “victims” in a case like this even to dream of a monetary award, but, alas, these are not normal times. As Darrell Cabey’s civil trial drew closer race became more of an issue — not merely in terms of publicity but in legal strategy.

In the wake of the O.J. Simpson trial, it has become clear how juries work in a multi-racial society. Actually, as far back as the late 1970s, the now-deceased Bronx District Attorney Mario Merola, who prosecuted one of Mr. Goetz’ assailants, admitted that it was becoming very difficult to get juries in the largely black county to convict blacks of violent crimes, and virtually impossible if the victims were white.

Mr. Cabey’s lawyer, Ronald Kuby, disciple of the late William Kunstler, was not shy about what he intended to do in the courtroom. “The Manhattan jury in the criminal trial was white,” he said. “Now we’re in the Bronx and we know what we have to do.”

Shortly before the trial, in a strange display of bad judgment, Mr. Goetz admitted on a national television talk show that when he was a young man he had gotten high on angel dust and made racial slurs. This admission forced his own lawyer to call Mr. Goetz a racist, but he implored the jury to award no damages since, in spite of this terrible quality, Goetz was still justified in the shooting.

There is no real dispute about why the all non-white jury awarded $43 million to a violent predator, Darrell Cabey. Mr. Goetz has been forced to transfer roughly 90 percent of his meager assets and will have to hand over a portion of his paycheck for the rest of his life. A case that should have vindicated the right of self-defense and the American justice system will instead be recorded as yet another proof of why a multi-racial society cannot work.