Kingdom of the Screwdriver

For a while yesterday, many on the Left were jubilant at the shooting (falsely reported, it turned out) of George Zimmerman, a Latino who, one day in 2012, dared defend himself as his head was being bashed against the concrete in a (mistaken) gay-bashing by a doped-up teenager. As the evidence showed, he was quite reasonable in his belief that he was shooting the teenager before the teenager could kill him.

In Baltimore over the weekend, the artist formerly known as The Artist Formerly Known as Prince held a concert in which he sang of victims of police brutality like Michael Brown, who was not actually the victim of police brutality but who assaulted a convenience store clerk half his size, then went after a police officer, trying to take the officer’s gun and presumably kill him with it. The officer killed him first—a shooting that even the Obama administration was forced to admit was fully justified.

From Mumia Abu-Jamal to the perpetrators of the Tawana Brawley, Duke lacrosse, and University of Virginia fraternity hoaxes… Why, so often, do people on the Left glorify liars and criminals? Why do they so often direct their anger and hatred at the victims?

It’s a pattern we’ve seen many times before. I’ve been writing about it for more than 30 years, going back to the case of Bernhard Goetz.


The man at the podium, once upon a time in 1985, said, “I was once on stage at the New York Hilton . . . [when] I was assaulted from behind by a man with his hand on my throat and a fist in my eye. My adrenaline surged and, though I was 54 years of age and my assailant was about 30, I was able to wrestle him to the ground and to restrain him until the detective who was part of my security manacled him. . . . I had the desire for instant revenge, and I contemplated kicking the perpetrator . . . and then reason set in, and I said to myself, ‘This is uncivilized behavior.’ So I did not kick him.”

That speaker was His Honor Ed Koch, Mayor of New York City. Thus did Mayor Koch explain how he had been tempted—how he had come oh-so-close to kicking the tar out of the fellow who attacked him—how, in the nick of time, he overcame his animal instincts. And he advised fellow citizens to act as mature as he did in handling such a situation.

To which the average New Yorker probably replied: Sure, Ed, next time some guy attacks me, I’ll have my bodyguard come over and handcuff him, just like you did.

Koch’s comments were inspired by the actions of a man named Bernhard Goetz, who, a few days earlier, had defended himself from criminals while riding the subway in New York City.

Unfortunately for Bernhard Goetz, not everyone is entitled to personal police protection. Goetz, the son of immigrant German dairy farmers, was an honors graduate of New York University in nuclear engineering. A teetotaler, divorced and living alone, he was active in his local neighborhood association, helped organize opposition to a rent hike, and collected petitions to have the city government plant trees near his apartment building. He ran an electronics business out of his home and often repaired his friends’ equipment for free.

One afternoon in 1981, he was attacked by three youths at a subway station. They beat him, tearing cartilage in his chest and damaging his knees, and one of them tried to push him through a plate glass window. One of his assailants was arrested and held by police a total of two hours, 32 minutes. Goetz, on the other hand, spent more than six hours at the Criminal Court building. Goetz saw the same fellow attack a couple three weeks later.

A law-abiding citizen, he applied for a gun permit He was turned down. “You can’t just carry a gun because you’re scared and want protection,” police told him. So he bought a gun in Florida.

On the afternoon of December 22, 1984, Goetz was sitting in a New York City subway car, minding his own business, when four young men clustered menacingly around him. In the words of a straightfaced prosecutor, the youths “requested” five dollars. Goetz stood up, said “I have five dollars for each of you,” pulled a silver .38-caliber pistol from the waistband of his blue jeans, and emptied it in the direction of the youths.

There seems little doubt about the intention of the punks. All had criminal records, and three of them carried sharpened screwdrivers. One of them—according to his brother—robbed subway passengers at least once week to get money for drugs.

After the shooting, Goetz jumped from the subway car and vanished. Mayor Koch, who knew the difference between a good-boy-gone-wrong and a dangerous vigilante, ordered 1,350 extra policemen out on the case and set up a special hotline, in order to track him down and bring him back to—ahem!—justice. (If Goetz had gotten a screwdriver in the gut, would Ed have pulled out all the stops to track down the assailant?)

Goetz turned himself in and was charged with four counts of attempted murder. Eventually, a jury acquitted him of all charges except carrying an unlicensed firearm; he served eight months of a one-year sentence. One of the criminals, who was left paralyzed and brain-damaged, won a $43 million judgment against Goetz. One of the others went on to commit various petty crimes and was charged with assault, robbery, and resisting arrest but not convicted; another was convicted of two later robberies; and the third was convicted of holding a gun while an associate robbed, raped, and sodomized a pregnant 18-year-old woman. That last fellow later died of a drug overdose in an apparent suicide.

Judge Leslie Snyder, when setting bail for Goetz after his arrest, pointed out that “If Western civilization has taught us anything, it is that we cannot tolerate individuals taking law and justice into their own hands.” Take the law into their own hands? If the judges won’t, and the politicians won’t, and the police can’t, somebody has to!

On the New York City subway, there were 14,000 reported crimes the year of the Goetz incident, and many more that were never reported. The Number One function of government in a free society is to protect individuals from violence. In pre-Giuliani New York City, as in Baltimore and Chicago and Detroit today, government couldn’t even fulfill its primary responsibility.

Today, in cities that are dangerous for working-class people, the wealthy and politically powerful live in safe neighborhoods or in apartment buildings with security guards and TV surveillance. Back in 1984, the liberal one-percenters looked with disgust on people who cheered Bernie Goetz.

“When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns. But that is better than everyone having them,” the New York Times opined back then. “This city will not tolerate vigilantism. That’s the difference between the wild West and a civilized society,” said Koch. Of course, in the wild West, where everyone had guns and knew how to use them, people were far safer than in Koch’s New York City; the firearm was the great Equalizer and Peacemaker.* It would be terrible if everyone carried a gun? It would be even more terrible if law-abiding citizens were stripped of the ability to defend themselves from armed criminals.

In Bernie Goetz’ apartment building there lived an old man who had recently been held up on the subway, but before the robber took his money, he made the old man call him “sir.” And why not? In the Country of the Defenseless, the man with the sharpened screwdriver is king.



* Thomas Jefferson believed that firearms equalized the strong and weak. He wrote to John Adams: “. . . I agree with you that there is a natural aristocracy among men. The grounds of this are virtue and talents. Formerly bodily powers gave place among the aristoi [aristocracy]. But since the invention of gunpowder has armed the weak as well as the strong with missile death, bodily strength, like beauty, good humor, politeness and other accomplishments, has become but an auxiliary ground of distinction.”

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