The Prosecutor

Eric Holder Jr., the first black Attorney General, made his name fighting violent crime. Now he faces his toughest task: cleaning up the Justice Department

Mike McGregor / Contour / Getty

Eric Holder Jr., the first black Attorney General

Eric Holder Jr. was trained long ago in crime and punishment. He grew up in the East Elmhurst section of Queens, N.Y.--so populated by cops and firefighters that rush hour looked like the shift change at a station house. A popular teen prank was setting off the red fire-alarm box near his modest brick house on 101st Street. Nearly everyone tried it once, but not Eric, the churchgoing Boy Scout who knew the consequence of disobeying rules: "A good, quick smack on the bottom," his mother Miriam recalls. "If you did something wrong, you're going to have to pay a price."

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