Bernhard Goetz graduated from New York University in 1969 with a degree in electrical and nuclear engineering, and subsequently faked mental illness to avoid being sent to fight in the Vietnam War. Following a divorce in 1975, he ran a niche electronics company out of his Manhattan apartment. The nature of his business often necessitated him carrying large sums of cash, a dicey proposition in even the best of times, but especially in New York City of the seventies and eighties.
One day in 1982, Goetz was transporting some electronic equipment by way of the New York City subway. While at the Canal Street Station, he was set upon by three young men intent on relieving him of his goods. They shoved him into a plate-glass window and threw him to the ground, leaving him pretty banged up, but he managed to assist a police officer in apprehending one of his assailants. Imagine Goetz's frustration when the perp spent half as much time at the station as he himself did, and ended up being charged only with criminal mischief.
Thereafter, Goetz applied for a permit to carry a concealed firearm due to the cash and valuables he often carried, but his application was denied, so instead, while on a trip to Florida to visit his parents, he bought himself a nickel-plated Smith & Wesson .38-cal. revolver. What could go wrong?
On December 22, 1984, the Saturday before Christmas, Goetz walked from his Greenwich Village apartment to the 14th Street Station on the Seventh Avenue line, where he boarded a Number 2 train and took a seat. He had unwittingly sat amid four friends, Troy Canty, 19, Darrell Cabey, 19, James Ramseur, 19, and Barry Allen (no relation to The Flash), 18. Canty asked how Goetz was doing, while two of his friends inched closer, then said, "Give me $5."
Goetz stood and asked Canty to repeat himself, which he did, while at the same time, according to Goetz, one of Canty's friends made what might be termed a "furtive gesture." Goetz was ready for whatever came next.
"I had no intention of killing them at that time, but then I saw the smile on [Canty's] face and the shine in his eyes, that he was enjoying this. I knew what they were going to do. Do you understand?" Goetz later explained to the police.
Goetz then unzipped his jacket, pulled out his gun, assumed a shooter's stance and fired five shots in quick succession, wounding all four young men, including hitting one of them in the back. Cabey suffered spinal damage and brain damage that rendered him a paraplegic. He would would also later admit, to legendary New York City columnist Jimmy Breslin, that he and his friends had intended to rob Goetz because he looked like "easy bait."
What followed the shooting was a culture war for the ages, with the Guardian Angels collecting money for Goetz's defense fund, while others assailed Goetz as a bigot who once said at a community board meeting that, "The only way we're going to clean up this street is to get rid of the spics and niggers," which, yeah, is pretty racist.
Goetz was ultimately acquitted of the charges of attempted murder and first-degree assault, but was found guilty of criminal possession of a weapon, and ended up serving eight months. Cabey would later be awarded $43 million in a civil suit brought against Goetz, but his legal defense had left Goetz bankrupt and in 2004 Goetz told Larry King "I don't think i've paid a penny on that," claiming he was happy with the $43 million judgment against him because it was "a verdict that makes the system look bad."