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Bernhard Goetz, a white electronics engineer, was beaten and robbed by a group of young black men in a New York subway station in 1981. The criminals were never brought to trial, and Goetz was embittered and disillusioned. He acquired (without a permit) a .38, which gave him a sense of bravado and, determined to walk whenever and wherever he wanted, prompted him to chase off muggers in Central Park and in the subway.

In December 1984, four black men, Barry Allen, Darrell Cabey, Troy Canty, and James Ramseur, approached Goetz because “he looked like easy bait” and “asked” him for five dollars. They were unarmed except for three screwdrivers. Goetz shot all four of them. To one of the men, Cabey, he said "You don't look too bad, here's another,” and shot him again. Cabey was paralyzed and brain-damaged from the shot.

The incident caused a nationwide sensation, and opinion was sharply divided. Many saw Goetz as a hero merely defending himself from rampant crime (all four had been arrested or convicted of previous crimes), while others viewed him as a racist who gunned down four unarmed men. For his part, Goetz was unrepentant. "I was trying to get as many of them as I could," he said. Goetz was acquitted of attempted murder charges, but he did serve 8 ½ months in jail on a weapons charge.

A decade later, Cabey sued Goetz for “emotional distress”. The would be mugger was awarded $43 million by a jury in 1996, but he’ll only see a small fraction of that amount, since Goetz filed for bankruptcy.

A year and some ago I was introduced, by a friend of mine (a former cabbie), to the gentleman in question, and I was sorely underwhelmed. I was expecting that everyone would expect from "The Subway Vigilante" -- some huge, buff, ex-military guy with no neck and a million tattoos. Not so.

He's a real unassuming guy, the typical nondescript New Yorker. He really doesn't seem like the type who would do what he did -- but the fact stands that he did it. He admits it, and he is not ashamed of it (which surprised me). He maintains that he didn't know they were 'unarmed' -- he saw something in their hands, and he was terrified because of what had happened to him before.

But, either way, he's rebuilt his life now, or as much as possible -- he runs a small electrical testing equipment supply company called, aptly enough, 'Vigilante Electronics' (www.vigilante-electronics.com). I got a good deal on a power supply from him.

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