- Quiet Rage: Bernie Goetz and the Shootings on the New York Subway by Lillian Rubin
Faber, 265 pp, £4.95, October 1987, ISBN 0 571 14944 8
On 22 December 1984, Bernard Goetz got into a subway car in New York City and sat down at the back with four young blacks. Wondering what this ‘white dude’ was up to, they teasingly asked him for five dollars to play a video game. When one of the four put his hand in his pocket, Goetz got up, pulled out his pistol, leant against the post to steady himself and said, ‘Yeah, I’ve got five dollars for each of you,’ as he shot them one by one. Two of the youths ran away towards the other end of the car. One ‘tried to run through the wall of the train’. After the shooting, Goetz took a good look at each of his victims ‘to make sure they were cold, that they’d been taken care of’. When one of them stirred, Goetz fired into him again, saying: ‘You seem to be doing all right, here’s another.’ Then he let himself out of the train, which had stopped short of the station in response to the emergency signal, and walked away down the tunnel.
Vol. 10 No. 7 · 31 March 1988
SIR: Some of the bigoted, only-whites-are-racist version of anti-racism treated by Dervla Murphy can be seen in Alison Weir’s review of Lillian Rubin’s book on Bernie Goetz, which happens to follow the review of Murphy in the 18 February issue. How much of the selectivity in the account of the New York subway shootings of four young blacks is Weir’s and how much is Rubin’s, I do not know. Some of the particulars, inter alia, which do not appear are these: Goetz had previously been the victim of a mugging by black assailants which left a permanent injury. All four of the blacks who confronted Goetz on the subway had extensive criminal records. Most accounts have the four approaching Goetz, rather than his sitting down ‘with’ them. Although none carried specially-sharpened screwdrivers, as claimed in early news reports, all did carry screwdrivers, a fact Weir omits. These are on occasion used lethally, as in the death of an actor who pursued a car burglar two years ago outside the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego. A poll taken in New York at the time of Goetz’s trial found a large majority of both white and Latino respondents believed Goetz innocent of crime in the shootings, as well as almost half of black respondents. In the event, a jury which included blacks acquitted Goetz on grounds of self-defence. New Yorkers and other Americans are indeed fearful of violence, which occurs at a much higher rate than in the UK. There is victimhood on both sides of the colour line, and there is moral culpability.
San Diego State University
Vol. 10 No. 9 · 5 May 1988
SIR: I refer Charles Dicken (Letters, 31 March) to Rubin’s book-Quiet Rage, for an account of the Goetz shooting: not having read the book himself, he is woefully at sea as to the reported facts. None of these young men (half Goetz’s age and all shorter than their attacker) had been convicted of serious crime; only two were carrying screwdrivers, found in their pockets after they had been shot in cold blood; and, yes, Goetz, armed with his unlicensed gun, did elect to sit with the boys and not with the twenty whites at the front of the carriage. Goetz had been mugged a good three years before he opened fire on these strangers. All subway travellers are nervous: nevertheless, at the time of the trial, 45 per cent of New Yorkers approved of the shooting and 46 per cent disapproved.
I am delighted to be mentioned in the same breath as Dervla Murphy, but the question of racism must arise after Goetz’s astonishing acquittal – two years after the crime – on a count of ‘attempted murder, assault and reckless endangerment of human life’ (he was only found guilty on one count of illegal weapons’ possession). Had the skin colour of the protagonists in this sad story been reversed, acquittal would have been most unlikely.