Today I would like to honor and pay tribute to Janet Reno. It was just 21 years ago today that Reno was confirmed as the first woman U.S. Attorney General by President Bill Clinton. The 75 year old Reno is from Miami, Florida where her father served as a police reporter for the Miami Herald. Two defining moments in Reno’s career as Attorney General were: the standoff with David Koresh and his followers (known as the Branch Davidians) in Texas and the conviction of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh–two very dark and sad moments in our history. Reno took full responsibility for a bizarre turn of events in Waco with the Branch Davidians resulting in 76 deaths. Another defining moment under Reno’s tenure was the capture and conviction of Theodore “Ted” Kaczynski, the Unibomer.
Reno became one of the most respected members of the Clinton administration in its first term, known for launching innovative programs designed to steer non-violent drug offenders away from jail and espousing the rights of criminal defendants. How sad that we do the exact opposite today, trying to steer all purported criminals to jail. In effect, we build a criminal system, rather than a justice system. Not a big surprise that Reno suffered great misogynistic attacks from the Republican party.
Although she left public life after serving her tenure as Attorney General, Reno reappeared to testify before the federal 9/11 commission in 2004 and voiced her opposition to some of the nation’s antiterrorism policies (racial profiling) through a legal brief in 2006. Sadly, we know that racial profiling against people of color remains just as disproportionate as it did in 2006. The irony is not lost on the fact that some of the worst terrorist attacks in our country have been perpetrated by white heterosexual men.
Reno continues to fight for issues around social justice and tries to keep people OUT of prisons: she serves on the board of directors for the Innocence Project, a nonprofit organization which assists prisoners who could be exonerated through DNA testing. Brava, to our Janet Reno. I wish there were more people working to address the disparities and inhumanity of the prison systems.