Goetz Resolves to Fight for
by Jeff Provine
says: what if Bernard Goetz resolved to fight for Vigilantism in New
York City? muses Jeff Provine's on his excellent blog
This Day in
Alternate History. Please note that the opinions expressed in this post
do not necessarily reflect the views of the author(s).
On December 30st 1984,
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icon to follow us on Squidoo.on a cold Saturday afternoon, five
gunshots rang out on the New York City Subway, heralding a new age of
vigilante justice in major American cities. Bernard Goetz, carrying
electronics in transport for his business, boarded the No. 2 Express bound
for downtown, where he ran across four young men.
After exchanging signals, they approached him, cutting him off from the
rest of the passengers, and one, Troy Canty, told Goetz, "Give me five
Goetz stood, put his hand into his jacket, and asked Canty what he had
said. Canty said again, "Give me five dollars".
Controversy continues as to whether the young men were panhandling or
preparing for a mugging, but Goetz took the demand as that of a robbery.
He had been mugged before in 1981, when three men jumped him and threw him
into a window while trying to get to his valuables. Though he managed to
assist an officer in making an arrest, Goetz spent twice the time at the
station than the would-be robber did, being charged only with "criminal
mischief" and would suffer chest and knee pain for the rest of his life.
Never wishing to be a victim again, Goetz applied for a handgun permit,
but was denied (possibly on his faking of mental illness some fifteen
years before to escape the Vietnam War draft). He purchased a revolver
anyway on a trip to Florida, and now he made use of it.
Goetz fired five shots, wounding all four of the young men, Darrell Cabey
permanently when the bullet pierced his spinal cord. The other passengers
made a terrified dash out of the car, leaving two women behind, nearly
trampled. Goetz spoke with them to see that they were uninjured, then met
with the conductor, who asked if Goetz was a police officer. Goetz replied
He hurried home, rented a car, and began to drive through New England to
clear his head. On December 26, an anonymous tip gave Goetz's name as
matching the description of the gunman and mentioned that he had been
mugged before. Goetz learned from his neighbor Myra Friedman that the
police had been by his apartment, and, on December 30, he returned to New
York City. He prepared to leave again to turn himself in somewhere
peaceful when he came across a copy of the Marvel comic book Punisher at a
newsstand in New Hampshire. Goetz suddenly felt vindicated in what he had
New York City at the time had more than 170 percent the crime rate of the
rest of the United States. Some thirty-eight crimes were committed each
day on the subway alone. A New York Times poll showed that 25 percent of
New Yorkers knew family who had been victims of crime in the last year and
that "Two in five said muggings and holdups had become so bad that New
Yorkers 'have a right to take matters into their own hands.'"
Goetz returned to New York City and began his campaign of masked
crime-fighting, combing the city streets, maiming would-be muggers, and
leaving calling cards encouraging other New Yorkers to join him. Word
spread through front-page newspaper articles despite police and city
leaders urging the city to remain calm. The famous Guardian Angels
community watch group became split, many holding to their programs of
nonviolent outreach while others turned to guns. Pimps and cocaine-dealers
were brought down all over the city by covert "heroes" or snipers from
apartment rooftops. The New York crime wave came to an abrupt halt and
traffickers fled elsewhere.
While crime itself froze, New York became a city on edge, what Mayor
Edward Koch referred to as, "some kind of Wild West town". Police
attempted to maintain order with record numbers of shootings while the
DA's office was lambasted with claims of self-defense. Some citizens
called for tight gun control, others applauded the new peace, and
political leaders decried the statistics on injuries as being a huge step
backward in race relations (though others reported ).
That March, Goetz was brought in by a special police task force that had
studied his patrols through the city. His trial for the initial shootings
became a circus as support and opposition poured out from across the
nation. While he was acquitted of attempted murder, he was found guilty of
reckless endangerment and criminal possession of a weapon, 200 hours
community service among his sentences. Goetz asked to perform his service
as a volunteer with the police, but his request was denied, citing his
references to the justice system as a "joke", "sham", and "disgrace". As
more of his shootings became known, he would attend trial for years to
With its most influential case setting precedence, masked "superheroes"
have been seen throughout the United States and even other countries in
the past 25 years, soon earning the nickname "Reals". Recently, they have
been applauded by President Barack Obama (famously a comic book geek) as
"active citizenry". Though armed with legal weaponry such as stun guns,
mace, and self-defense training, their casualty rate is notoriously high.
says in reality Goetz turned himself in at a police station in Concord,
saying, "I am the person they are seeking in New York". His actions led to
great discussion, but ultimately he would be convicted of reckless
endangerment and weapons possession. Crime rates would eventually be lowered
by economic forces. To view guest historian's comments on this post please
Today in Alternate History web site.
Jeff Provine, Guest Historian of
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