Edmund Perry, 17

New York, New York
June 12, 1985

Agencies: New York Police Department NYPD

Cause of death: Shooting

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Last updated: over 5 years ago


Leaders of New York City's black community assert that the killing of Edmund Perry, a black honor student shot by a white officer, is another terrifying example of police brutality. The police and prosecutors insist that the facts of the case do not support such a charge. For more than a week, however, they have provided few facts.

They have their reasons, in law or politics, for treading slowly. But in this special case, silence threatens confidence in the law. For here all New Yorkers have extraordinary reasons to wish for the innocence of the young man who was killed.

What is known so far about the incident last June 12? The plainclothes officer, Lee Van Houten, says he was jumped and beaten by two men as he patrolled on Morningside Drive near 113th Street in mid-evening. He fired a shot, fatally wounding Edmund Perry. The other man disappeared.

Was deadly force necessary? Officer Van Houten was treated for injuries that suggested a beating. Though Mr. Perry was unarmed, an officer being beaten up by two men might be justified in using a gun. The police say witnesses confirm that such an assault occurred.

Why didn't Officer Van Houten's backup team, following in a station wagon, intervene to prevent the beating and killing? They were around a corner, out of sight. The police say such teams often remain at a distance, relying on radio contact to avoid being spotted. That sounds like a lame reason for not being in a position to react. The failure of the backup may have resulted from misjudgment. What happened to the second assailant? For the record, police say only that they know his identity. Anonymous police sources have been quoted as saying he was Mr. Perry's brother, Jonah.

Then why hasn't Jonah Perry been arrested? Law-enforcement insiders think the police believe it prudent to have an indictment, carrying the authority of the grand jury, before making an arrest.

Maybe so. But while the authorities move so slowly, the community simmers, for Edmund Perry was an unusual product of a special Harlem environment. Parents on his block had waged a forceful battle against the crime and drug abuse and despair that plague the area. Mr. Perry's escape to Phillips Exeter Academy and his scholarship to Stanford made him a prized symbol of hope.

''Those who knew him . . . know that violence was not part of his life.'' So say Judith Griffin and Lance Odden, president and chairman of A Better Chance, the group that recruited Mr. Perry for Exeter. ''His teachers . . . rated him in the top 2 to 3 percent of the school in ability, self-discipline, leadership, emotional maturity and initiative.''