As a former New York police detective, I remember well the 1988 assassination of police officer Edward Byrne on a freezing cold night in Queens. Byrne was gunned down while guarding the house of a Guyanese witness who had defied local drug dealers' threat not to testify against them. Later that year, I was privileged to be on stage when then-Vice President George H.W. Bush was presented with Byrne's shield.
It is clear that we all share some responsibility for the tensions between police, our elected leaders and the community at large. No group brings honor when it disrespects others.
Thirty-two years ago, as a rookie I listened as instructors warned us that that our lives depended upon our firearms training and guts. The instructors told us we would all use our pistol once in our career most likely shooting three rounds at seven feet in less than five seconds. The decision to shoot is ours. Nonetheless, they stressed, "It is better to be tried by twelve then carried by six." A reference to errors being better judged by jurors and not pall-bearers at your funeral.
After graduating the academy, I was assigned to Brownsville, Brooklyn. During my first week in the neighborhood, I confronted a man with a rifle on a street corner. He turned towards me before dropping the gun to the sidewalk. I hesitated and didn't pull the trigger. The rifle was unloaded and he was 16.
The precinct captain, a seasoned African-American cop, complimented me for "restraint of force."
These are the spit-second decisions cops make. Everyone will tell you it was the right call because no one got shot that afternoon. Had I fired I would have killed a black teenager with an empty rifle. Had I been shot I would have failed the creed, "It is better to be tried by twelve then carried by six."
Now, a stunned nation mourns the senseless death of two of New York's Finest gunned down on a Brooklyn street by a nobody seeking to avenge a grand jury decision not to indict a cop.
But events like this demonstrate how dependent we are on the police and how dangerous their job is.
We ask officers to deal with problems Americans cannot come to grips with, such as violence, racism, drugs, poverty and handguns. We ask cops not to hold their ground but advance into danger to help us. We ask a lot of young men and women recruited from our communities to serve us and put their lives in harm's way.
Yet, all too often we unreasonably critique cops' every action and seek to limit their lawful authority, believing this will be the cure.
No one should die in police custody. And cops should be held to a higher standard because so much more is expected of them.
Equally troubling is the letter circulated by the police union withdrawing its invitation to the mayor to the funeral of any cop killed in the line of duty.
The only person with blood on his hands in the killing of the two officers in Brooklyn is the deranged man who pulled the trigger.
Nicholas Casale is a retired New York City police detectives who is an ABC News contributor.