Eric Garner's Staten Island death and Ferguson, Mo., tension put spotlight on policing

Kelly Berry protests along Florissant Avenue on August

Kelly Berry protests along Florissant Avenue on August 16, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Violent protests have erupted nearly every night along the street since the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer on August 9. (Credit: Getty Images / Scott Olson)

From here to the Midwest, the actions of law enforcement authorities form the big political topic of the summer of 2014.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) -- often labeled a tea party conservative -- drew particular attention for his statements on the troubles in Ferguson, Missouri, following the death of a black teenager shot by a white police officer. He linked a "militarization of law enforcement" to a more general "erosion of civil liberties and due process." And, Paul said, race still "skews the application of criminal justice in this country."

"The outrage in Ferguson is understandable," Paul wrote in Time magazine, "though there is never an excuse for rioting or looting. There is a legitimate role for the police to keep the peace, but there should be a difference between a police response and a military response."

Pundits soon analyzed this through the lens of his prospects as a 2016 presidential candidate. But in New York, former Westchester Democratic Assemb. Richard Brodsky -- far from a tea party conservative -- wrote last week: "We've quietly and without examination created a system of military policing, and bam, we're watching a new kind of America."

Disturbances in Ferguson overshadowed -- partially but not completely -- a tempest over the death of Staten Islander Eric Garner during his videotaped arrest last month. There, the spotlight turns to the borough's district attorney, Dan Donovan, to see if indictments result. The time frame for Donovan's actions, if any, remains hazy.

All the while, Preet Bharara, the Democratic U.S. attorney for New York's Southern District, continually draws the limelight, feeding conjecture that he could at some point parlay his status as a prosecutor into elected office in the mode of a Rudy Giuliani.

Marking five years in the job in an interview with NY1 News Thursday, Bharara reached beyond the confines of cases and courtrooms when he proclaimed: "The public should be frustrated that it keeps sending to Albany, and to other elected places, people who disproportionately are breaking the law and are violating their oath to uphold the public trust."

Bharara's impact may be felt next month when Democratic voters in southeast Queens decide whether to renominate the State Senate's former majority leader, Malcolm Smith of Hollis. In June, a mistrial was declared in the case against Smith on bribery and wire-fraud charges, with a new trial set for January.

And, Bharara's recent report urging New York City jail reforms awaits action. It, too, fits this summer's theme.