Do you remember Bernhard Goetz?
On December 22, 1984, Bernhard Goetz shot four Black teenagers on a New York City subway train in response to one of them asking him for five dollars. Goetz had been robbed previously, and told the police “My intention was to murder them, to hurt them, to make them suffer as much as possible.” He also said that before shooting one of the teens, Darrell Cabey, a second time, he told him “You seem to be doing all right, here’s another.” The shot severed Cabey’s spine.¹
Goetz was acquitted of all charges of assault and attempted murder, and found guilty only of carrying an unlicensed firearm. Many people hailed him as a hero.
Two of those people were my white grandparents, who grew up in New York. I, then 14 years old, was sitting at their dinner table next to my Black mother while they defended this white man for attempting to kill people who looked like us. This upset me, and I said so. My mother, currying favor with my white father’s parents as usual, made only a feeble response.
Nearly 40 years later, on May 1, 2023, another Black man, Jordan Neely, was riding a New York City subway train. He was fed up with being homeless, hungry, and thirsty, and complained loudly about his plight. In response, a former U.S. marine put Neely in a headlock, while two other passengers held him down, for fifteen minutes. He died as other passengers watched, filmed, or ignored his struggling.
Neely’s killer was questioned and released. To date, no charges have been filed.
Meanwhile here in San Francisco, many Black men also struggle to survive in one of the most expensive cities in the country. On April 27, 2023, Banko Brown, a young Black trans man, was shot to death by Walgreens security guard Michael Earl-Wayne Anthony, who had confronted Brown for allegedly shoplifting.
Anthony claimed self-defense. Our cop-friendly District Attorney Brooke Jenkins bought it, saying “The evidence clearly shows that the suspect believed he was in mortal danger,” though her office later admitted that Brown was unarmed. Jenkins has declined to file charges.