After Ferguson, NYC awaits its own racial reactions

The criminal justice system is perhaps the nation’s most racially polarized institution.

Many black people view the death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown — shot by a white officer from a mostly white police force in a largely African-American city — as emblematic of a system that still devalues black lives.

Many white people view Brown as a thug who, shortly before a Ferguson, Missouri, officer confronted him, had stolen cigars from a store before he attacked the officer.

Much of the Ferguson dilemma was borne of a perfect storm: Brown’s body lay uncovered in the street for hours, authorities initially refused to ID the officer (Darren Wilson), and police provided no narrative. These created a vacuum in which the media accepted eyewitness accounts. Only it’s become apparent some accounts were inaccurate.

This is not to suggest we know all that transpired between Wilson and Brown. No less than eyewitnesses, cops, too, can be liars.

By the time a grand jury made its decision not to indict Wilson, the polarization had become such that no one on either side of the racial divide would believe anything other than what they already believed.

So how will that case play out in NYC, where an NYPD officer accidentally shot an unarmed black man in the stairwell of a Brooklyn housing complex last month, and where a black man died after he was placed in a police chokehold in Staten Island in July?

In both cases, many black New Yorkers have alleged racism, though in the shooting a likely scenario is the rookie Asian-American officer who fired was scared.

Since Ferguson, protesters have marched across NYC. Encouraged by the leniency of Mayor Bill de Blasio and the NYPD, they’ve marched and disrupted traffic. “Fifty demonstrators who can shut down the Manhattan Bridge are endangering public safety,” said a former NYPD official who spoke anonymously to speak frankly about the issue. “What kind of mayor cannot see this?”

With an impending grand jury decision in Garner’s case, the Rev. Al Sharpton has issued a “countdown” until a decision is reached.

“We’re setting the clock today,” he said Saturday. “There’s going to be a countdown every day this week.”

Said the former police official: “Countdown? It’s inciting. It’s intimidating. Countdown to what?”