The “Vigilante Spirit”: Bernhard Goetz, Batman, and racial violence in 1980s New York

Justin Mann*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


This article details the “vigilante spirit,” a term used by New York Governor Mario Cuomo to describe the seizure and execution of state power by Bernhard Goetz in his attack on four black teenagers in December of 1984. It argues that the vigilante spirit is an expression of thoughts, feelings, and practices that produce threats and then assemble the tools it deems necessary to combat them. It further argues that the vigilante spirit, expressed by Goetz in his attack, was also encoded in various cultural texts produced in the 1980s and uses Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns as an example. By reading these two case studies together, it seeks to explain the cultural politics that underpinned racial violence in the 1980s.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)56-67
Number of pages12
JournalSurveillance and Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Racism
  • Security

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Safety Research
  • Urban Studies


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