Bill Blake: Planting seeds of safety

(My comments at Friday’s memorial for Minneapolis Police Sgt. Bill Blake.)

RED LAKE, MN:
It’s fitting we celebrate the life of Sgt. Bill Blake in August – because if you understand August in Minnesota you understand his life, and his life’s work.

Those of you lucky enough to live here in northern Minnesota, and those of us who drove up from the Cities, know how beautiful August in Minnesota can be. August is what reminds us why we put up with winter. Fields and forests that had been cold and bare are now lush and green. Seeds planted in tougher times are beginning to flower.

Bill Blake was a man who planted seeds, whose work in those tougher times is beginning to flower for the rest of us.

Bill Blake came onto the Minneapolis Police Department almost two decades ago. He saw tough challenges. At one point the neighborhoods he was protecting had become so violent they were called “Murderapolis.”

Those of you who knew Bill knew he saw firsthand what violence did to neighborhoods. I remember one night a number of years ago when both Bill and I were at a community meeting at Little Earth. A mother came up, understandably angry and frightened, and told about seeing an assault weapon in the unit next to where she was living with her young child. “How would you like YOUR child to see that?” she asked.

I knew what that meant from my own mother, who had to sell our family’s drug store, a few blocks from Little Earth, after she was held up several times at gun point. Bill knew even more directly, when his own daughter was killed in neighborhood violence.

For many people, probably most people, that would have been enough. They would have left, taken another job, transferred somewhere else. But Bill Blake planted seeds. He reached out to neighbors and brought them closer than they had been to police. He built bridges between law enforcement and American Indian nations that were stronger than any that had been built before.

Now those seeds he planted in bare ground are beginning to flower. The neighborhoods around Little Earth are now significantly safer. Great progress is being made to reduce American Indian violence.

A young American Indian child who plays safely in her neighborhood may not know Bill Blake in his life, but she will know his life’s work.

This should be the August of Bill Blake’s life. He should be able to walk into a gathering like this filled with his friends and know how loved he was. He should be able to see people walking safely in the neighborhoods he helped protect and feel a sense of pride.

Bill Blake died way, way too young.

But sometimes those who plant seeds leave the harvest to others. On safe walks and quiet nights we will reap what Bill Blake sewed.

And in those moments, if we resolve to plant seeds of our own, Bill Blake’s life, and lifework, will live on for seasons and seasons to come.

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