This Day in Revisionist History

December 22:

“Wow, talk about déjà vu! Although I still don’t know why you’re not armed, or how you guys talked me into doing this.” – Bernhard “Bernie” Goetz, after rapidly shooting four unarmed black men in a game of paintball several hours after escaping the scene of his subway shootings.

Bernie, Jamal, Deion, Marcus, and Raymond—or the “Jive Five”, as they were known in college—were virtually inseparable. In fact, Bernie’s famous (or perhaps infamous) adventure on the no. 57 subway earlier that day (read it–this whole thing will make a lot more sense if you do) marked the first time in a week that the crew had been separated for more than a few minutes during the day. They all worked together at a bread bakery they had opened just after graduating, a popular local joint by the name of “Baggoetz”, and when a bank statement detailing an unsettled loan repayment was discovered in the back office, they were left with no choice but to send one person out in the middle of the day. Bernie volunteered, telling his best friends only half-jokingly “You know they’ll go easy on a white guy!” He hurriedly finished handing out orders to the long line of customers, apologizing for the delays. He even offered an extra loaf of sourdough to a black man seated in the corner, saying “You look like you could use some bread…here’s another.”

After making his way onto the subway on that fateful day, Bernie was approached by four black men, all of whom had previous criminal records and who owned a less successful scone shop a few blocks from Baggoetz. (At this point in New York, the baking rate had reached an unprecedented high, with as many as 264 bakers per 10,000 people each year.) According to Bernie’s later account, one of the men, a talented but angry young pastry chef named Troy Canty, approached him almost immediately after the train departed. The four other men moved over to Bernie’s side so as to block him off from the rest of the passengers. Canty stepped toward Bernie and said, “Give me your ciabatta recipe.” Although Canty would later claim to have been simply “panhandling” (a baker’s term for the friendly give-and-take among bakers in the kitchen), witness confirmed that his demeanor was jealous and aggressive. It was at this moment that Bernie decided to take action. He later told police in a taped interview that he was angry at the city for not regulating the baking industry, and described an incident in which, while previously on the subway, a worker from a rival shop had upturned a dozen donuts Bernie was transporting to a private tasting. “And not just original glazed donuts—sprinkled, cream-filled, frosted—it was just sick. You have to be sick to do something like that.” He complained that his assailant had barely been given a slap on the wrist, and as such Bernie decided to take the law into his own hands.

Rising from his seat like yeast in a hot loaf of sourdough, he fired five rounds and struck each of his four assailants once. Nervous and afraid, he then ran through the subway tunnels and escaped back to the shop, where his best friends comforted him. Deion suggested that they go play paintball to unwind (a grateful customer who owned a range had offered them a free trip). Jamal and Marcus thought this was ridiculous and reprimanded Deion for his insensitive suggestion, but Bernie, perhaps still in shock, seemed not to mind and simply nodded his head.

They decided to play “every man for himself,” as they had an odd number of people and, being so close-knit, didn’t really like the idea of subgroups. In just a few minutes, however, it became clear that Bernie wasn’t up to the task. He was distracted, oblivious even, often walking around in the open and failing to notice when his competitors were in plain sight. Not knowing what else to do, Raymond suggested that they let Bernie win, to maybe raise his spirits. They approached Bernie, pretending to be going after him, but he was unfazed. Thinking that perhaps he was apprehensive, they all pretended to accidentally drop their weapons, run out of ammo, or have their guns jam as they charged. It was only after Marcus repeatedly prompted him by yelling “Oh no, Bernie’s gonna shoot us and win! Bernie’s gonna shoot us and win!” that Bernie finally snapped into action, quickly taking out all four of his friends. He was a little shaken at first, but when he realized what his friends had done he laughed, saying it was “just what he needed” to clear his head for the harrowing criminal and civil trials that would await him.

History may repeat itself, but that doesn’t mean I have to, although I did say that last week. Tune in on the 25th for a special CHRISTMAS EDITION of “This Day in Revisionist History”!

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