"All hell's going to break loose," Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) predicted last week after a grand jury decided to indict Bernhard Hugo Goetz on gun charges but not for attempted murder. "[It] means all you have to do is pick up your pistol and hit the subways."
Other black leaders warned that racial violence could be triggered by the grand jury's decision to forgo more serious charges against the white gunman, who has admitted shooting four black youths in a Dec. 22 subway confrontation.
The backlash, however, has yet to materialize.
The electronics engineer, 37, after capturing headlines and becoming something of a folk hero across the nation for several weeks, apparently has confirmed the Andy Warhol rule of celebrity: sooner or later, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.
Goetz had more than his allotted time in the city's short attention span, but with the suspense largely over, even the tabloid newspapers have moved on to other racy crimes. "All Goetz Gets Is a Gun Rap," said the Daily News' banner headline, with apparent disappointment, signaling the city's subsiding obsession.
Rangel's Harlem office received calls protesting the grand jury action, but other city politicians, including Rep. Robert Garcia (D), who represents the South Bronx where the four youths lived, report little public reaction to the grand jury decision.
"If this had happened 10 years ago in the days of the civil rights struggle, there would have been a big uproar," Garcia said. Now, he said, "The heightened activism isn't there anymore . . . . People are more concerned about themselves."
Several black ministers scheduled a meeting with U.S. Attorney Rudolph Guiliani to demand a federal civil rights investigation of Goetz. But by the time the meeting took place Tuesday, the city was abuzz over a new issue: an alleged cover-up of police brutality by the city medical examiner, detailed in a New York Times series.
Guiliani said black leaders, including civil rights activist Roy Innis, who supported the grand jury decision, "expressed differing views and opinions" in the Goetz matter. "But they unanimously urged the U.S. Attorney's office to commence an investigation of the public allegations concerning Elliot M. Gross," the medical examiner.
On Thursday, Guiliani agreed to investigate Gross for "obstruction of justice of certain federal civil rights investigations," the fifth probe announced by government agencies since the story broke Sunday.
A telegram from the NAACP made no mention of Goetz, but expressed alarm that the allegations against the medical examiner "may only be the tip of the iceberg of a conspiracy among law enforcement officials and others at the highest levels of government to violate the civil rights of black and other minorities in our cities."
Darrell Cabey, one of the youths Goetz admitted shooting, is brain-damaged and partially paralyzed. He has been in a coma for three weeks. Cabey's attorneys, including activist William Kunstler, have filed a $55 million damage suit against Goetz. But even if Cabey dies, the grand jury proceeding will not be reopened, according to District Attorney Robert Morgenthau.
Kate Klein, a spokesman for the Mayor's Action Center, which had been flooded with calls after the Goetz shootings, said that since the grand jury decision, "We've had a couple of calls applauding it, and maybe one or two that thought it was racist, but nothing startling. Initially the response had been enormous, but I guess things just keep happening in the news and people lose their interest."
Aides to Morgenthau, to Rep. Ted Weiss (D), who represents part of Manhattan's West Side, and to Rep. Bill Green (R), who represents Manhattan's East Side, said their offices had received few if any phone calls since the grand jury decision.
On WABC's popular Bob Grant radio talk show, the Rev. Herbert Daughtry, a black leader who had met with Guiliani, spoke for an hour -- not about Goetz but about South Africa. When listener's calls came in after the program, 10 of 18 callers raised the Goetz issue. Five supported Goetz and the remainder expressed no opinion.
In his "State of the City" speech Wednesday, Mayor Edward I. Koch made no mention of Goetz, but announced that he has ordered a $2 million-a-month overtime program for city and transit police to patrol high-crime subway stations. Between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m., he said, "every train will have a police officer on it."
Koch has appointed an independent investigator to examine allegations against medical examiner Gross, particularly that he covered-up police brutality in two cases. One concerned a young black graffiti artist, Michael Stewart, who allegedly was beaten to death by white transit police in Brooklyn, and the other an elderly black woman, Eleanor Bumpurs, who was allegedly shot by a white policeman during an eviction.
The policeman who allegedly shot Bumpurs, Stephen Sullivan, was indicted and pleaded not guilty Thursday to second-degree manslaughter charges.
Koch is running for reelection this year, and while black leaders have been meeting regularly to find a minority candidate to oppose Koch, they have yet to endorse one. Koch has accused black leaders of drumming-up opposition to him by focusing on racial tensions, but in his speech Wednesday he was conciliatory.
"It is not my intention to offend, but to defend," he said. "To defend a vision of what New York can become: a city of diversity without division."