Image of retired NYPD Deputy Inspector Corey Pegues, via YouTube.
In early August, just four days after Michael Brown was gunned down by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, and just under a month after 43-year-old, father of six, Eric Garner, was killed on camera while the NYPD attempted to arrest him, retired Deputy Inspector Corey Pegues appeared on an episode of the popular hip-hop podcast, the Combat Jack Show.
What followed was a fascinating conversation in which Pegues detailed his childhood growing up as one of five kids with an alcoholic father and struggling mother in rough and tumble North Queens. The family’s dire financial straits led Corey to get involved in the street life at age 13. “The ironic thing is I think about Eric Garner getting murdered in Staten Island—for the record, you heard what I said, murdered—is at 13, I [was] selling loosies.”
After a few years as a “hobbyist” drug dealer, Pegues says he graduated from loosies to becoming a full-fledged member of Kenneth “Supreme” McGriff’s notorious Supreme Team.
Pegues operated as a loyal solider in the Supreme Team for years, engaging in various street brawls, gun fights, and robberies. But that all changed in 1988 when Corey’s first son was born. “When my son was born, I was like: ‘What kind of hero am I going to be? I’m either going to be a street legend or somebody positive,” Pegues told Combat Jack. “That was the change in my life. If you’re 25 and you’re selling drugs, you’re either going to be dead or in jail.”
Leaving the drug game isn’t easy, but Pegues managed to clandestinely join the army so he could escape the trap. After finishing his three-year service in the army, Corey returned to New York to find most of his drug dealer pals dead or in jail. So he decided to join the NYPD, where he was accepted quickly because of his military service. “Back when I was in high school, there was a cop assigned to the school, and I used to talk to him. I noticed all the girls always around him. I was like, Yo, I gotta do this job!" Corey told Combat Jack. “The cop knew what I was doing in the streets and he was telling me, ‘This can change your life, benefits, etc’ […] So I took the test while I was in high school, knowing it took about three years for a [background] investigation. I figured if I went away for three years and I came home [I would be good to join the force].” He was right. After returning to the city and being accepted into the NYPD, Corey rapidly climbed the ranks over the course of the next 21 years. “After five-and-a-half years in the force, I made sergeant. Three years after that, I was promoted to lieutenant,” Pegues told me. “In 2006, I was promoted to captain. And in 2008, I was appointed Deputy Inspector of one of the most violent precincts in the city, 67th precinct.”
While ascending the NYPD’s ranks, Corey found time to earn a Bachelor’s degree from St. Joseph’s College and a Master’s from St. John’s University. In 2005, Corey began teaching in the criminal justice department at Monroe College in the Bronx. “The school is probably 97 to 98 percent minorities, mostly Spanish and black. I could have gotten a job somewhere else, but there I got to take more time to give back,” Pegues told me last week. “They could look up to me as a role model—someone who they can look up to and try to achieve.”
A mural painted by a local artist honouring Pegues's work in the community, via Twitter.
After listening to the episode and hearing about a forthcoming book entitled, From the Streets to the Beat, that Corey is currently shopping around, I gave Corey a call last week and talked to him about his role as a resource for families of black men killed at the hands of the police and his work in connecting the NYPD to the communities that so frequently feel victimized by them. “I worked hard to build bridges between the community and police,” Pegues said in our interview. “I was able to bring down crime every year that was a commander.”
But before our interview could be published, the New York Post got hold of Pegues’s appearance on the Combat Jack Show and splashed Corey across the front page with the headline, “Thug Cop,” which argued that if Pegues’s past had been made clear, he would have never been allowed to join the police force.
This story kicked a chain of events that left Pegues reeling. The day after the Post’s story, several NYPD officers visited the Pegues family home in Hempstead, New York, and confiscated three of his guns for breach of his “good conduct” clause on his permit. Sources told the Post that this was just the beginning, as certain members of the NYPD are allegedly looking into revoking his $135,000 a year pension. The Post also breathlessly reported on Pegues’s alleged connection to convicted cop-killer David McClary.
A thread on New York-based message board “Thee Rant,” where membership requires you send in an ID card proving you’re active on the job in law enforcement, the fire department, or the military (thread titles like “Why Don’t Black People Tip?” and “Upstate rag paper has a columnist who has a black daughter, built like a boy” are the norm on "Thee Rant"), reveals a discussion by cops unimpressed by Corey’s transition from the streets to the executive realm of the NYPD and his willingness to speak out against police brutality. A few members member even bitterly discussed trying to tie Pegues to any cold cases and get him indicted for a crime.
For all of this to come from an interview on a podcast meant to motivate and illuminate, left Combat Jack troubled. “I think a great story of someone turning his life around was cruelly exploited to bring said individual down,” Combat told me. “Is this an attempt to take the focus off Eric Garner? I feel a bit guilty that my story was used in such a malicious manner. My prayers go out to Pegues and his family.”Pegues quickly shifted into damage control mode, appearing on Don Lemon’s primetime CNN show and making an impassioned appeal for the public to examine the body of his career before discarding him for a past influenced by poverty and youthful indiscretions.
When I called Pegues for additional comment in light of the New York Post’s stories this week, he declined to speak.
There’s no denying that Pegues may have been too candid about his past in an effort to drum up interest for his book, but making him public enemy number one after a lifetime of quality service and community advocacy reeks of misplaced justice. Through his career and support to some of New York’s most marginalized people, Pegues has proven himself to be a shining example of what can happen when community policing is done right.
Pegues’s story has a cinematic arc that could be used to inspire and show the power of redemption through hard work, but it’s now threatened to be bookended with scandal, which feels like a tragic conclusion, particularly in light of Corey’s steadfast dedication to uplift those caught in the same turmoil he faced as a kid. “When you feel the doors are closed and the windows, the feeling of walking outside everyday and thinking you’re going to be dead, it’s a tremendous amount of pressure on you,” he said. “And I was able to navigate my way out of that, not only navigate my way out of that, but use my experiences that I went through to better myself—to come out of the most unlikely extremes to being the executive in the biggest police department in the country is a great feat.”
As the NY Post and NYPD circle Pegues like sharks sensing blood in the water, let’s hope that point isn’t buried in an effort to find a convenient scapegoat for police malfeasance while the force is under scrutiny for brutality.