For many, Russ Ewing’s name was synonymous with trust.
Ewing, a Chicago television reporter, was known for his ability to convince fugitives running from the law to turn themselves into authorities, all while ensuring their safety. Ewing earned the trust of Chicagoans for providing protection for those many had deemed undeserving of it. With his witty and easy-going demeanor, Ewing convinced more than 115 suspects to turn themselves into police.
Just as with the people he helped, Ewing was no stranger to hardship. Born December 28, 1923, and orphaned at a very young age, Ewing grew up on the South Side of Chicago where he was raised by relatives. He went on to dabble in the late-night jazz scene as a gifted jazz pianist but would later turn to firefighting from 1956 to 1964.
It was while he was firefighting that he would discover his passion for journalism, as he published articles in the prominent African-American newspaper, The Chicago Defender. Ewing was outspoken about the injustices faced as a Black firefighter. Giving a voice to the voiceless quickly became a theme in his earliest of articles.
In 1964, he made the shift from firefighting to journalism as a courier at WMAQ and was later promoted to reporter. He developed a rapport with the Chicago African-American community at a time of heightened and more blatant police brutality. The fear of assault at the hands of authorities prevented a lot of wanted individuals from stepping forward. Ewing realized that by filming and airing their arrests on television it would prove that any injuries appearing later could be assumed to have occurred in police custody.
Ewing would find his knack while being on the scene of a precarious situation with a mentally ill man holding his mother and children hostage. Police were not getting through to him, when Ewing asked if he could take a crack at talking to the man. The man recognized Ewing as the Chicago television reporter, and after a few minutes of conversation, everyone was able to exit peacefully and unharmed. This would be the first of many dangerous situations where Ewing would use his gift of deescalation.
When asked in an interview why fugitives call on him, Ewing answered, “Some of them are afraid to go in by themselves; some just want someone to talk to. In most cases, they know the police know who they are and that might be a compelling reason. But right now, most of them are just kids who are scared to death, and in many cases, they come from good families.”
Initially, Chicago Police was not keen on having a reporter interact with a fugitive in this way. Ewing technically wasn’t trained to handle hostage situations. However, Ewing would become instrumental for the Chicago Police Department, as they came to trust Ewing and valued his role despite how unprecedented it was.
One story Ewing particularly liked to tell, and that demonstrated his cleverness, was when a fugitive had been drinking and held a loaded gun. Ewing recalled, “So I said, ‘Hey, that looks like fun. Let me try it.’ I was trying to get rid of the bullets.” He fired the remaining bullets into the ceiling and after a couple of minutes, he had successfully disarmed the man in a calm and clever manner. The man turned himself into the police without issue. If Ewing was at any point fearful, no one could tell–something that would be repeated with every case Ewing assisted with in helping fugitives turn themselves in.