Sunday, November 3, 2013

Bernhard Getz is still alive and still getting arrested

Bernhard Getz will always be remembered in NY City history.  In the 1980s, when living in New York City was dangerous, he shot 4 black young men who asked him for money while he was riding on the subway. Getz had previously been robbed and said he was afraid of the young men.  He stated that he shot the black youths because he had to defend himself.

New York City was SO dangerous, back then, that he was found 'not guilty' of the shooting and was only convicted (found guilty) of having an illegal gun.  Many people agreed with what he had done because the police, back then, did not seem to help anybody.  He spent a few months in jail.

Nobody in New York City has forgotten Getz.  Some think he is a hero and some think he is...well...not a hero. 

He is now 65 years old and was arrested for trying to sell marijuana to an undercover police officer.

Here is the article:

Vocabulary to help you understand the article:

to be robbed - to be mugged; when someone takes your money away forcibly

to be found 'not guilty' - if you are accused (charged) with a crime, you can be found 'guilty' (you did it) or 'not guilty' (you didn't do it) after your trial

marijuana - a drug you smoke like a cigarette

undercover cop - a police officer who is dressed normally; you don't know this person is a police officer just by looking at him or her

vigilante - this is someone who does not trust the police and who punishes a criminal by himself. So Getz is called the 'subway vigilante' because instead of calling the police, he shot 4 people by himself.

to be arrested - this is when the police take a person into custody, or take a person to their station to be processed for a trial.

who divided the city - this means about half the city thought he was a hero and half the city thought he was a criminal

to get high - to feel nice after smoking marijuana

weed - marijuana

to be cuffed -

allegedly - the police said he did this, but it hasn't been proved 

a civil lawsuit - when someone takes another person to court to get money from him

to be paralyzed - one of the young men Getz shot was paralyzed (he couldn't move part of his body)

peddling - selling

pot - marijuana

skyrocketing him to fame and infamy - if something skyrockets, it rises quickly; so after Getz shot these teens, he became famous and infamous very quickly.  Infamous means famous for the wrong reasons.

narcotics cop - drug cop/police officer

mugging - robbery, theft

chatted up - began talking to

charging him with - claiming he did something, arresting him for

cracking down on ganja peddlers - ganja is another term for marijuana; the police were cracking down on people selling marijuana; cracking down on means using force to stop something

Gotham - another name for New York City

nebbish - if a guy is nebbish, he is weak, shy, scared, submissive, cowardly. Nebbish is actually a Jewish word.  I'm not sure whether Getz is Jewish or not - I always thought he was Dutch or German-American (but I'm really not sure).

electronics entrepreneur - he was an electronics businessman when he became famous

fusillade - a lot of gunshots at one time

straphanger - someone who rides the subway

self-defense - Getz said he thought the black kids were trying to rob him and he had to defend himself.

a jury acquitted Getz - they found him not guilty

headline-grabbing - this news made headlines in most newspapers

he filed for bankruptcy - he told a judge he didn't have any money and only had to pay 10% of his debts.

bids for mayor and public advocate - he ran for political office twice but nobody voted for him

Getz gets off - this means Getz was found not-guilty

graced the pages of - in the newspaper of

bigots and yahoos - a bigot is someone who hates people who are different from him/her; a yahoo is an idiot. That lawyer (who is kind of a yahoo himself) claims that Getz's followers are racists and idiots.  That's not fair since even a previous NY mayor, Ed Koch, defended Getz's actions.  In the 80s lots of people were very scared because the police were very dishonest and corrupt and literally did nothing to help people, and the city became a crime center.

"Maybe I can garnish the profits on his dope business.." - the lawyer is saying that maybe if Getz makes a lot of money by selling 'dope' (marijuana) he (the lawyer) can 'garnish' this money (this is when a judge takes money away from someone who owes money to pay back the person to whom he owes the money.  This was a joke by the lawyer.

Here's a little more about Getz from my book:  New York City Sucks But You'll Still Want To Live Here.  (it's available as an e-book for $3.50 on amazon):

If you haven't bought this book, you should!  It is super cheap (I kept the price low so any foreign student could afford it).  You'll learn lots of vocabulary words and secrets about US culture.

Here's a part from the 'subway stories' chapter. Vocabulary explanations are under the text. Please go through the vocabulary first and then read the story. :)


The ultimate New York City subway story is the legendary story of Bernie Getz.  This happened back in the 80s when New York City was going through a wild-west stage where crime was rampant, especially on the subways.  

So Getz was this nerdy, skinny guy with coke-bottle thick glasses who had been robbed in the subway system before by an African American youth.  From what I’ve been able to understand, law enforcement was a joke back then – people were pretty much on their own.  Apparently nothing much happened to the guy who had robbed Getz and this made Getz very angry.  

So, like any angry American, Getz went out and bought a gun.  They are all over the place.  Need a gun?  Trust me, you’ll be able to find one.  He started carrying the gun with him on the subway.  He had just decided that he wasn’t going to take it any more.  The city wasn’t doing anything to protect people and he was tired of being scared.  Now I know what you’re thinking…isn’t this illegal?  Yeah!  Hell yeah!  In America you may own a gun and keep it in your house for protection but you may not ride around on the subway with it.

So one fine day Bernie was traveling home on the subway late at night from his job.  Four African American youths approached him for money.  Now here’s where the stories differ.  It seems that they surrounded him in a manner in which he thought was intimidating.  The youths claimed otherwise.  Nobody seems to be really sure what was said, but Getz later claimed that he felt intimidated and threatened and because of the prior attack he pulled out the gun and began shooting.  He hit all of the African American youths.  Thankfully none of them was killed but one was paralyzed from the waist down.

So what happened to Getz?  He kind of became a hero to many people who were fed up with the lack of safety in New York City.  In fact, this situation may have been a turning point in New York City history.  He was called the subway vigilante and after this shooting I think people realized that something had to be done about the runaway crime.  Getz, of course, was arrested, but people in the African American community were a bit upset because the jury only found him guilty of illegally possessing a gun – not attempted murder. The jury seemed to understand why Getz acted the way he did and condoned the shooting.  

He only spent a few months in prison.  However, in America the legal system is made up of two basic branches – the criminal and the civil court systems.  So Getz got kind of lucky in the criminal system but the African American guys then sued Getz in the civil court system.  Getz was tried in the Bronx and every member of the jury was Black or Latino.  They found Getz guilty and fined him millions of dollars.  However, Getz found ways of avoiding the payments owed to the youths.  He has boasted that he has not paid those youths one penny that he was ordered to pay them.  

The irony, however, is that two of the African American youths who were shot by Getz later committed their own crimes – violent crimes.  One of the youths actually raped a child several months later.

In any case, be careful on the subways.  One of my Japanese female buddies has been mugged twice in the subway and every once in a while you hear about crazy guys who push people onto the subway tracks so that the people are run over by trains.  I remember reading about this twice and each time the pusher was a schizophrenic guy who had been released from an American hospital because his insurance had run out.


ultimate – means final or best or the best example of something.

legendary – really really famous – almost like a legend or myth.

the wild west – a period in American history when there was very little law enforcement in various western towns and people had to take care of criminals or criminal acts themselves.  Often a person suspected of a crime was just hanged from a tree by his neck until he died. This was in the 1800s.

rampant – out of control.  Rampant inflation is destroying the economy.

nerdy – a nerd is basically a person who doesn’t care too much about his/her appearance, is very studious – likes to read, is intelligent…perhaps a nerd will wear glasses. Nerd used to have a negative connotation.  A nerd was thought to be a weak and not very cool person.  But American society has changed and now nerds like Bill Gates are highly valued and admired.

law enforcement was a joke – Law enforcement is the act of upholding the law or making sure the law is followed or making sure that if the law is broken the person who broke the law can be brought to justice.  The police are the primary law enforcement officials in any modern society.  Back then when people thought about the NYPD upholding the law they often laughed as if the idea of that was a joke.  Expecting the NYPD to do their job, back then, was felt to be ridiculous.

may own a gun – not can own a gun.  May means permission, can means ability.

intimidating – frightening, threatening.

a claim – an assertion, a statement a person has made which might be true or false.

prior – before.

to be paralyzed – to be unable to move either a certain part of your body or your entire body.

the waist – this is the area of the body that separates the upper and lower part of a person’s body.

to be fed up with – to be at a point where one is so angry or upset about something that he/she will not tolerate that thing or action any more.

a lack of – an absence of, not having enough of something.

a turning point – the point in time where a situation turns or changes from something to something else.

a vigilante – this is a non-police officer who punishes a person or people for some type of alleged crime.  Vigilantism is totally illegal.

runaway crime – out of control crime.

possessing a gun – having a gun.

to condone – to know that something is wrong but to allow it anyway.

civil vs. criminal court – civil court deals with money.  You can sue a person in civil court.  When you sue someone you file legal papers against him to obtain money from him.  In the criminal court system there are other forms of punishment although a monetary fine is also possible. 

a fine – this is a punishment in which a person is expected to pay money.

to be mugged – to be attacked and robbed.  To be robbed means that a person takes your money or something you own.

schizophrenic – a person who doesn’t know reality.  He/she no longer has a real connection with reality.  This is a severe mental illness.  This type of person may see things that do not exist or hear strange voices.

to run out – if something runs out, you no longer have it.  My insurance ran out last week; now I have no insurance.  I had a six pack of beer but I ran out of beer yesterday after my brother came over.

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