11/29/2009 04:49 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Death In A Coffee Shop

Three men and a woman sat at a table in the Forza Coffee Company in Parkland, Washington, at 8:15 am today, their laptops open in front of them. Had they gathered on this quiet Sunday morning to catch up on tweets or freshen their Facebooks or chat about yesterday's Husky win over the Cougs or the Seahawks' chances against the Rams today, they'd be alive right now.

But these four people had shown up in black-and-whites, and were wearing the blue uniforms of the Lakewood Police Department. As the officers of this community of 60,000 met to swap crime information and prepare for their upcoming shift, a lone gunman walked in and opened fire. He ignored two baristas and several customers as he quickly, systematically executed each of the officers.

As I write this, heartbroken, watching live coverage of the search for the shooter, the bodies of the officers remain inside the coffee shop. We don't know whether any of them was able to return fire.

The officers, their names not yet released, leave behind loved ones, likely including spouses and young children. Like Timothy Brenton, a Seattle police officer ambushed on Halloween night, like the four Oakland cops gunned down on a routine traffic stop in March, like the three Pittsburgh officers slain in April by a suspect lying in wait, the Lakewood cops never had a chance.

I understand generalized animosity towards cops. It's triggered, often as not, by a specific grievance, an instance or pattern of real or perceived police misconduct -- fueled in some cases by recognition of historic institutional abuse.

What I don't understand, and will never accept is the slaying of a "symbol." A human being targeted because of what he or she does for a living. I wish blind critics of police would take a moment to reflect on the work done by good cops. I've seen officers give their all to stop a murderous DV suspect, catch a rapist, pull mangled bodies from car wrecks, protect and console an abused child.

Police officers have it tough enough dealing with known or conventional threats. This spate of ambush killings -- a single incident in a year is relatively rare -- raises fundamental questions about what it means to be a police officer today. Including: Would you apply?