PORLTAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Breonna Taylor. George Floyd. Jacob Blake. Black Lives Matter.
These are among the names and phrases the National Football League approved ahead of the 2020 season for players to wear on their helmets in an effort to continue the social justice movement.
Andrew Sledd was not on the preapproved list of names and messages players can put on their helmets.
Until Week 3, when the Seattle Seahawks take the field against the Dallas Cowboys.
Seahawks rookie offensive lineman Damien Lewis began the process several weeks ago of getting Sledd’s name approved. Sledd is the father of Lewis’ girlfriend Savannah; the couple began dating while they were both athletes at Louisiana State University. Through their relationship, she shared the story of what happened to her father in Chicago on March 31, 1989.
MARCH 31, 1989
On the night of March 31st, 1989, Chicago Police served a warrant at Sledd’s mother’s house, where he was living at the time. They’d gotten the warrant the day before, for a man known as Jesse Greene. Their suspect was described, according to court documents, as a 22-year-old African-American, approximately 6 feet tall, with a slender build and dark complexion. Sledd’s father is named Jesse Greene, but that’s where the similarities between anyone connected to that address, and the man police had been looking for, end. They served the warrant looking for this man, and instead, they found Sledd, his girlfriend Maria, his baby brother and his brother’s babysitter.
“I was preparing to jump in the shower and get dressed when I heard a tremendous pounding and banging on the front door of our house, my mom’s house,” Sledd told KOIN 6 News.
“I started down the stairs to go see who the heck is kicking on our door like that. What is going on? I got about halfway down and the door flew off the hinges and just caved in and the whole doorframe just kind of crumbled. Um, and when I saw that I bolted back upstairs to my bedroom because I thought someone’s breaking in the house. We’re in serious danger here.”
From court documents we now know the men who busted down Sledd’s door that night were plainclothes Chicago Police Officers. Police maintain they were wearing “identifying insignia,” such as badges or hats with the CPD logo on them. Sledd testified they were nothing that would’ve let him know they were officers.
Fearing they were about to be victims of a home invasion, Sledd ran upstairs to grab his .22 caliber Marlin sport rifle.
“I would target practice with my dad in Montana,” Sledd said. “We have cabins in Montana that we go to every summer, since I was 18 months old.”
With the rifle, Sledd turned around to see an African-American man standing in his bedroom.
“We kind of made brief eye contact and he took off running down the stairs and he yelled, ‘he’s got a gun, let’s get the “F” outta here.'”
Sledd followed the man towards the stairwell, in the hopes of chasing the man out of his house.
“When I got to the top of the stairway, gunfire just erupted, immediately,” Sledd recalled. He says somewhere between nine and 12 shots were fired. Two of them hit Sledd – one grazed his scalp, another in the low abdomen. The shot that hit him in the abdomen severed his peroneal artery, causing him to lose the use of his right leg and right foot. Sledd collapsed, bleeding at the top of the stairs.
“These guys, they rushed up the stairs and then there were three or four of them and came up the steps and turned me over,” Sledd said. “One officer kicked me in my groin area. And then he kneeled on my chest and he put his gun to my head and he said, ‘I should blow your F-ing brains out. We’re the police you asshole.'”
Sledd says he told those officers he had no idea they were police and began begging them to call an ambulance.
“They asked me some questions, like, ‘What are you doing here? What’s your name?’ Several questions like that. And I said, ‘I live here, my mom’s house.’ And at that point, I think they were pretty quickly realizing that they had made a horrible mistake.”
Sledd was eventually taken to the hospital where he endured 14 hours of surgery as doctors attempted to save his life. Sledd recalled that he lost 36 pints of blood that initial night.
“My head surgeon told me later on in my hospital stay, ‘No one would’ve bet a nickel that you are going to make it through the night,'” Sledd said.
But survive he did, and his sister Beth, stayed by his bedside as much as she possibly could. As an attorney, she knew once he won the fight for his life, he’d had to fight for his innocence.
As Sledd was recovering from multiple gunshot wounds, Chicago Police were trying to get a statement from him.
“They tried to twist it and turn it around – but my sister was there.”
Sledd credits his sister, and many of the hospital staff, for keeping the officers at bay until he was coherent enough to give one.
Chicago Police charged Sledd with multiple counts of attempted murder, for allegedly “pointing the rifle threateningly at them,” as well as aggravated assault and drug charges for alleged possession of cocaine and cannabis.
Sledd was eventually declared innocent of all charges.
At that point, he files a civil suit against four of the officers from that night and the Chicago Police Department because he claims they violated his civil rights, and accuses them of several things, including excessive and unjustifiable force, false arrest and imprisonment and malicious prosecution.
After a messy and nearly seven year legal battle, that saw Sledd’s case initially dismissed, but then appealed and the decision to dismiss overturned, Sledd eventually agreed to a financial settlement with the city of Chicago and Chicago Police.
His legal battle behind them, the physical affects of what police did to him that night, continue, more than 30 years later. Sledd has had 20 surgeries as a result of the shooting, countless hours of physical therapy and emotional trauma that’s hard to calculate.
Over the last 30 years, Sledd’s story has gone largely untold. But he and his family haven’t kept them from fighting for change.
Sledd and his wife are the proud parents of five children. Their eldest daughter, Chloe, told Black Enterprise in 2019 she remembers “being a little girl watching him put on a bulletproof vest under his clothes before he would leave the house because he suffers from extreme PTSD from what happened to him,” she said.
“Every single day that my family and I interact with my dad, we have to watch him in pain because he still has a bullet fragment lodged in his spine that can never be taken out, or else he will become a paraplegic.”
Chloe graduated from the Howard University School of Business and went on to work for Google for several years. While there, she started developing the concept for an app, called CommunityX that could change the world, and could find a way to make sure what happens to her father, never happens to another father.
Sledd explains the concept of the app as a way to unite people across the globe to share ideas.
“Maybe I have a great idea about how to stop police brutality and someone on the other side of the world has a similar experience and they have another idea. We come together, now our two separate ideas, become one stronger idea.”
“This is an attempt to link people with like minds and similar interests and try to come up with solutions and not just by protesting, but, but real solutions for real change.”
If Sledd’s shooting had happened today, there’s little doubt his name would have been chanted in the streets, there would have been hashtags and GoFundMe campaigns. But in 1989, there was no cell phone footage, there was no media waiting outside his hospital room ready to tell his story, there were no officials, no legislators calling him up asking how they could help, offering to enact change.
Until Week 3 of the 2020 NFL season, Sledd’s story has stayed in the shadows. But with his story, and this movement, Sledd has hope that this time, real change is possible.
“I feel like in the past we’ve had a boat, we’ve had a canoe at the dock and someone is murdered. People are upset about it. And we go into the boat and we say, ‘this has gotta change.’ And to get there, we need to get in this boat and row to the point B and start making change. However, every time we’ve gotten in the boat, we’ve had no oars. So we get in a boat, we’re all angry, we’re pissed off and upset and we’re hurt. And someone has lost a loved one, but we can’t get to point B because no one has an oar so we’re just stuck at the dock. And slowly we decide, ‘Oh geez, we can’t get to point B with this.’
“We start bailing out of the boat slowly. And then it’s back to an empty boat. I think now we have that same boat and something has happened and we’ve all run to the boat again. And we’ve said, we’ve got to get to point B and lo and behold, we all have oars now,” Sledd said. “And those oars, are our cell phones and our technology and Community X and Black Lives Matter. And the NFL’s participation. We got oars now. And I think we’re going to get to point B.”
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