When police are shot, America is the target

Witness describes Baton Rouge police shootout scene
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Story highlights

  • Cedric L. Alexander: police officers are members of communities they are sworn to protect
  • No matter the motivation, we are all targets when police officers are attacked, he says

Cedric L. Alexander is a CNN law enforcement analyst and director of public safety at the DeKalb County Police Department in Georgia. He is a former national president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives. The views expressed are his own.

(CNN)This morning, two Baton Rouge police officers and one East Baton Rouge sheriff's deputy were shot and killed in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. At least three other officers were shot and wounded.

It's still early in the investigation into this tragedy. But before we say that being a cop is a dangerous job; before we say that people are "understandably" angry following a series of officer-involved shootings; before any of that, we have to understand that when police are shot, America is the target.
    You and me: We are the target.
    Cedric L. Alexander
    Sir Robert Peel, who created the first "modern" police force in London in 1829, put it this way: "The police are the public and the public are the police." The police are members of the community that they are sworn to protect and to serve. For most of us most of the time, the police are the government.
    The police are the ones who actually deliver and guarantee the most essential benefits of a free and just government. It is "law officers" who, each and every day, actually deliver the protection promised by law. Freedom and justice? These are just aspirations, wishes, and promises until they are delivered, guaranteed and intact, to us.
    A police officer is nothing more and nothing less than a member of our community who has voluntarily committed to make that delivery and guarantee it, if necessary, with his or her life.
    So we need to breathe very deeply right now. We need to watch. We need to think. On Thursday, more than 80 people were killed—mowed down by a 20-ton truck—in Nice, France. On Friday and Saturday, Turkey nearly dissolved in a military coup, days after many were killed and injured in a terrorist attack on the Istanbul airport. Today, Baton Rouge in the United States of America was attacked.
    There are differences among these attacks, but, in the end, they are all about only a single difference—the difference between civilization and chaos, between community and anarchy, between living together and killing each other, and between law and lawlessness.
    New video shows gunfire exchange in Baton Rouge
    New video shows gunfire exchange in Baton Rouge

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    Some people — social protestors and political candidates among them — see only reasons to fight one another. But what we had better all see is that there has never been a time when coming together as Americans was more important than it is right now.
    Call it ISIS, call it terrorism, call it mental illness, call it whatever you want.
    Those of us who believe in liberty and justice under the rule of law — by which I mean the overwhelming majority of this nation — are under attack. Our enemies thrive on lawlessness. They use the Internet and other means to turn up the chaos by inspiring some among us to open fire, wield knives or axes, detonate explosives, or turn trucks into weapons of mass destruction.
    I can only assume that they also pray that we kill each other.
    We must not answer their prayers.
    This is a time for our coming together, not falling apart.
    "We are not enemies, but friends," Abraham Lincoln told the nation that had elected him president on the very verge of Civil War. "We must not be enemies," he said.
    This was true in 1861, and maybe even truer today when, believe me, we have plenty of enemies to face. Now is a time to stand with our police officers, the men and women who stand with us because they are us. As a community, a society, a nation, we truly cannot live without them.