One week ago, just after 6:30 p.m., D.C. Officer James L. Gordon, 40, was killed at his home in Largo by Cpl. Robert W. Raimond, 27, of the Prince George's County police. According to county officials, Raimond, answering a neighbor's call, found evidence of a burglary, saw an armed man through the window of a lighted room, ordered the man, whom he presumed was a burglar, to freeze, then fired when the man raised his hands as if he were holding a weapon.

The incident stunned people throughout the metropolitan area. "You're not safe in your own home," shuddered one Prince George's citizen. "I feel the shooting was racially motivated," said Officer L.D. Crawley of the Metropolitan Police's 4th District, referring to the fact that Gordon was black and Raimond is white. "A lot of us {black officers} feel it was murder, and rarely do I use that word."

Expressing skepticism of county officials' explanation that Gordon turned with a gun in hand to face Raimond, Crawley said, "No veteran would do that. Gordon wouldn't have done that. All of us are afraid to travel to Prince George's County."

Whatever the reaction, however, one fundamental question haunted: How could a man who was a victim of a crime possibly be inside his own house and be killed by another man, with the full authority of government? Indeed, one point was unassailable: The burden of justifying the killing is enormous.

That's why the response of some Prince George's County officials was troubling from the start. The day after the shooting, county officials showed a television reporter a computerized program designed to train police in firearms use. To many viewers it appeared to be an effort to get the public to focus on just how short a time -- a split second, say -- a police officer has to make up his mind about whether to shoot when he sees a guy with a gun, as alleged in the case of Officer Gordon.

But that line of reasoning blatantly belies the obvious question of why there was a need for the officer to shoot at all. If Raimond went to the rear of the house and saw an open window and what appeared to be a burglary scene, why didn't he stand to the side or crouch to avoid being shot, and call for backup?

Many people felt that the television report was an ominous signal that the county police were more interested in protecting their man than in determining if the killing was justified.

The day after the incident, Metropolitan Police Chief Maurice T. Turner Jr. met with County Police Chief Michael J. Flaherty about several "gray areas," and on Wednesday, Flaherty responded to the growing criticism with a five-page letter to Turner in which he sought to respond, point by point, to some of the questions raised.

To many area residents, a thorough investigation was especially urgent in view of the fact that Raimond, on at least two previous occasions in his six-year career, had faced allegations of excessive use of force. In one case, a federal jury awarded $4,400 to a Riverdale man who had said that Raimond used unnecessary force and violated his civil rights during a traffic stop in March 1984.

Meanwhile, the Prince George's police continue to support Raimond's actions in this case.

It is reassuring that State's Attorney Alex Williams has announced the appointment of an independent investigator to look into the case. Williams had already proven his concern about police shootings and excessive force by police officers by the official policy he announced in October of making sure such shootings are reviewed by his office and then routinely presented for grand jury review.

For the fundamental fact is this: Every black man in his own house and every black citizen in this area has to wonder, is it conceivable that a white citizen in his house would be shot as was this black citizen? In 99 out of 100 cases, I suspect the answer would be "no." The only hope for the people of Prince George's is a fair investigation.