Ferguson, Missouri, has become the nation's raw nerve in the painful relationship between blacks and police. Since an officer shot and killed unarmed teenager Michael Brown there in August, troubles bedeviling the city won't go away.

But it's not just Ferguson's problem.

It's not clear who shot two police officers outside Ferguson police headquarters early yesterday as a demonstration was winding down, or why they may have been targeted. Whoever pulled the trigger was "a damn punk who was trying to sow discord," U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder suggested. It's a relief that neither of them died, unlike NYPD officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu. The pair was unconscionably executed in December, following the senseless death of Eric Garner in Staten Island after an officer grabbed him in what appeared to be a banned chokehold.

ColumnDobie: A national conversation about what, exactly?CartoonDavies' latest cartoon: Those I Love NY signsCommentSubmit your letter

This has got to stop.

The U.S. Justice Department's recent finding of pervasive racial discrimination and exploitive profiteering by cops and courts in Ferguson documented the bitter truth of black residents' complaints of being unfairly targeted for arrests and fines. The resignations of high-ranking city and police officials have delivered Ferguson to a point where progress is possible.

But so far that hasn't been enough to calm the tensions that sparked more than 200 days of protests, because the problem extends beyond one small city in Missouri.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

It will be tough to convince blacks across the country to trust that police will treat them fairly, even though many regularly do. It will be just as hard to root out abusive police officers who don't. But both things have to happen.

Whoever shot the two officers, one under his right eye leaving a bullet lodged just below his right ear, the other in the right shoulder, will make that healing even more difficult in Missouri.

But if the rolling crisis in Ferguson persuades the public to unblinkingly confront the prejudices on both sides and the lack of respect plaguing policing in black communities, it could yet mark a historic turn for the better.