At this point, I’ve been sitting at my computer for 30 minutes staring at the blank screen. My last Red Cup Adventures blog was written in December 2019. I just had to write a hearty Get To Steppin’ to the disgraced and fired CPD Superintendent Eddie Johnson (click here to read it). In 2020, I haven’t written a new blog or anything else which is a shame because I love to write.
I’ve been sitting here with a blank screen because I started the year 2020 moving in slow motion and haven’t found the motivation to pick up the pace yet. I started the year in slow motion then the CoronaVirus happened so I isolated with my family on the west side and was more than happy to #ShelterInPlace. I’ve been cooking with my mom, walking the family dog, and staying off social media especially Facebook. I get myself in trouble voicing my opinions on Facebook so I decided to give it up. But today, Spirit whispered to jump online and see what’s happening with my Facebook friends. I came upon a post by Brandi Thomas that read “It was just about this time 21 years ago that I got a call from mom saying come home! Not knowing that Bobby was gone (sad face emoji) Robert Russ 22 killed by Chicago Police June 5, 1999.” And then I knew why Spirit whispered to me because I needed to Say His Name: Robert (Bobby) Russ AKA Big Fluffy AKA Big Fluff.
I don’t personally know all my Facebook Friends. I like to friend people who I feel have a good spirit and interesting online presence. I don’t personally know Brandi Thomas, but I definitely knew her brother Bobby Russ. We both started at Northwestern University as Freshmen in the fall of 1994. The Black population at NU in 1994 was around 8% of the student body. It had been 8% decades before I attended and it’s still around the same percentage decades after I graduated. (The Black NU alum dream is for the Black student body to one day hit and exceed the 10% glass ceiling.) Since the Black population at NU is so small, we usually all know each other. Add to that the Black kids from Chicago and the Chicago suburbs all have to get together to play the who-do-we-know-in-common game.
Bobby Russ was a 6 foot 4 inch, 270 pound, defensive lineman on the Northwestern Wildcat Football team (No. 98) from Calumet City. He was a huge guy with a huge personality. His nickname was “Big Fluff” because he was always smiling, joking, and he gave the best hugs. One article published last year by InsideNU to commemorate the 20 year anniversary of his murder accurately described him as “a deeply religious, quick-witted gentle giant.” (Click here to read the full article)
Here are the facts of Bobby Russ’s murder which I’m summarizing from the Inside NU article:
On the night of June 4, 1999, Russ was driving home to Calumet City from Evanston. Chicago police officer Philip Banaszkiewicz saw Russ driving erratically on southbound Lake Shore Dive near Monroe Avenue. Banaszkiewicz approached Russ’ car stopped at a red light. Russ locked the door and drove away. Banaszkiewicz began following Russ to the Dan Ryan expressway and two other police officers joined the pursuit. A police car pulled in front of Russ to block his path, but Russ rammed the police car. The police surrounded his car, began kicking the car, yelling “Get out the fucking car”, and breaking Russ’ rear passenger window because they couldn’t see in the car’s tinted windows. Russ was sitting in the car unresponsive which his hands between his legs as the police shouted at him. Russ turned quickly over his left shoulder and grabbed Officer Van Watts IV’s weapon through the broken window. Russ and the officer tussled with the gun. Watts fired one shot at Russ. The officers dragged Russ out the car, placed him on his stomach, and handcuffed his arms behind his back. The 22-year-old was dead on the expressway before the ambulance arrived.
As a 43 year old Black woman who has lived in Chicago my entire life, made the drive from Evanston to the SouthSide of Chicago more times than I can count, and personally knew Bobby Russ as a classmate and friend, here’s my perspective on what happened:
Depending on your mood and your demographics, the hour plus drive from Evanston to Calumet City can be beautifully exhilarating especially as Navy Pier and the downtown Chicago skyline come into view or it can be scary and deadly. I don’t know what Big Fluff was thinking driving home. Was he excited because he was days away from graduating? Was he tired from a long day and late-night drive home? Was he driving fast because he was trying to get home quickly or cause its fun to drive fast when you’re pretty much alone on LDS? Was he thinking about his unborn child due to be delivered in the fall? I don’t know. But I know he was a 6’4″ big, Black guy driving a late model Buick with tinted windows down lakeshore drive late at night. And since I know how a lot of Chicago cops are I’m going to guess he saw a late model Buick with tinted windows (CPD HATES tinted windows) and decided to fuck with the driver. The cop didn’t know Big Fluff was a Northwestern University scholar and student athlete. The cop didn’t know he may have even cheered for Big Fluff when NU Football went to the Rose and Citrus Bowl. Since his windows were tinted, the cop may not have known he was a big, Black guy.
But considering Big Fluff was driving a late model Buick with tinted windows and the cop probably ran his plates, I’m going to assume he knew the occupant of the car was Driving While Black and decided to fuck with him. And honestly “fuck with him” is the absolute best description I give you because that’s what CPD loves do to Black people especially big, Black guys. I’m further going to give my friend the benefit of doubt that Big Fluff didn’t see or hear or understand some confusing command the first officer gave him on LSD so he drove away. The officer got pissed (CPD really hates tinted windows and when they think they are being disrespected) so he decided to really fuck with Big Fluff and calls in “fuck him up” back up. When the now three police cars met up with Big Fluff on the Dan Ryan, I’m going to give my friend the benefit of the doubt that he tried to follow their commands. But once Officer Watts broke the back window and saw a big, Black guy, Watts escalated, over reacted and murdered this big, Black man he perceived as a disrespectful threat…this big, Black man we all called Big Fluff. The officer who fired on Big Fluff and the other two officers who helped murder my friend all lied to paint Big Fluff as the aggressor. Ask anyone who knew Bobby…the story the officers told made no sense especially considering that Big Fluff had a torn rotator cuff. It was shown in court that with his limited shoulder mobility, there was no way 6 foot 4 inch, 270 pound Big Fluff could have quickly turned around in the driver’s seat to reach out the back driver’s side window to wrestle for the officer’s gun.
21 years ago today Robert “Bobby” Russ AKA Big Fluff was murdered by the Chicago Police Department for Driving While Black. CPD’s civilian oversight board, which Mayor Lori Lightfoot previously headed from 2015-2018, found Big Fluff’s death was an accident. The City of Chicago paid $9.6 million in damages to Big Fluff’s 4-year old son for the “accident” they condoned and continue to allow to happen. And we have had ENOUGH! Being a big, Black guy shouldn’t be a death sentence frequency inflicted by the Chicago Police Department. This is why NCAA and NFL players take a knee. Because there are a bunch of big, Black guys on those teams who have had police officers point guns at them and threatened to murder them. And too many have friends and family who have not been as lucky as them. They have had ENOUGH! We have had ENOUGH!
As we demand justice for George Floyd, I agree with Reverend Al Sharpton that we need to demand justice for all the families who have had loved ones assassinated by and then lied on by police departments around the country. We also demand justice for everyone who has been murdered, brutalized, and victimized by police departments around the country. We demand justice for all the violence inflicted by the police that wasn’t caught on video or was caught on video but was dismissed and disregarded for the systemic lies and cover-ups facilitated by police departments, police unions, and government officials. We Demand Change and the first step is to say the names of the victims AND the names of the victimizers. We need to re-tell their stories and point out the lies that have been pressing on our necks for too long.
SAY HIS NAME: ROBERT (BOBBY) RUSS AKA BIG FLUFF, beloved son, brother, father, Northwestern University 1999 graduate, Northwestern football defensive lineman (No. 98), teammate, friend, comedian, gentle giant. His life mattered. #BlackLivesMatter
Thank you Brandi Thomas for the reminder, for speaking with me, and for giving me permission to share your photos.
In the comments, please leave the names and tell the stories of your loved ones who deserve justice! #SayTheirNames
To read more on Bobby “Big Fluff” Russ and sign the Change.org petition to Mayor Lori Lightfoot, click the following links:
Lori, we need you to…BRING IN THE LIGHT.
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Filed under: Black Lives Matter