Death of Edmund Perry

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Edmund Perry, a Harlem resident, was shot to death by a plainclothes policeman on June 12, 1985 when he was 17 years old. The case briefly generated a firestorm of protest in New York City when it was revealed that Perry was an honor student and was enrolled to attend Stanford on a scholarship; however, witnesses claimed that Perry and his brother had attempted to mug the officer, and the shooting was ruled justifiable.

The incident[edit]

Lee Van Houten, a 24-year-old plainclothes policeman, was on assignment in the Morningside Park section of Manhattan on the night of June 12, 1985, when he claimed to have been assaulted by two men who attempted to mug him. According to Van Houten, he was approached from behind and yanked to the ground by his neck, where two black men beat him and demanded that he give them money. He drew his gun from his ankle holster and fired three times, hitting Edmund Perry in the abdomen. The other attacker fled, and was later identified by witnesses as Jonah Perry, Edmund's brother.


At the time of his death, Perry was a recent graduate of Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire, one of the most prestigious preparatory schools in the United States. The revelation of this fact led to significant press coverage, much of it unfavorable to the police. The front-page headline of the New York Post the next day was "COP KILLS HARLEM HONOR STUDENT". The Village Voice suggested that Perry was shot because he was "too black for his own good", and The New York Times wrote that "...the death of Edmund Perry raises painfully troubling questions".

However, 23 witnesses backed up Van Houten's version of events, and the media firestorm was short-lived. Van Houten was cleared of any culpability in the shooting. Jonah Perry, an alumnus of the Westminster School in Simsbury, Connecticut, was later put on trial for assaulting Van Houten. He was found not guilty.

Perry's experiences at Exeter and the circumstances surrounding his death formed the basis of the best-selling 1987 book Best Intentions: The Education and Killing of Edmund Perry, written by Robert Sam Anson.

On January 6, 1992, NBC aired the TV movie Murder Without Motive: The Edmund Perry Story, directed by Kevin Hooks. Perry was portrayed by Curtis McClarin.

The first-season episode of Law & Order, "Poison Ivy" was inspired by Perry.

Michael Jackson's 1987 song "Bad" and its music video were inspired by Edmund Perry. In the music video Michael's character is peer-pressured by his friends when he returns home from his honors high school and rebuffs his bullies by singing the song. This reflects the main lyrical theme of anti-bullying and standing up for oneself.


  • Anson, Robert Sam. Best Intentions: The Education and Killing of Edmund Perry (ISBN 0-394-75707-6). [N.B. Anson's son Sam Anson (1987) was sent down from Exeter]
  • Shattering a Fragile Dream." Time Magazine. July 15, 1985

External links[edit]