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Denzel Washington speaks out: Don’t ‘blame the system’ for black incarceration, 'it starts at home'
Actor Denzel Washington, who plays a lawyer in his new movie, says his views on the American criminal justice system hasn't changed. He said "the system" shouldn't be blamed for black incarceration because it starts in fatherless homes. (Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images)

Denzel Washington speaks out: Don’t ‘blame the system’ for black incarceration, 'it starts at home'

Legendary actor Denzel Washington says a recent movie role hasn’t changed his views on America’s criminal justice system and that black incarceration finds its roots in fatherless homes.

What did Washington say?

Washington, who plays a young, ambitious lawyer in the new movie "Roman J. Israel, Esq,” told reporters at the film’s premiere that his role didn’t make him more cynical about the criminal justice system but reinforced what he already believed.

"It starts at the home. It starts at home. It starts with how you raise your children. If a young man doesn’t have a father figure, he’ll go find a father figure,” Washington said, according to the New York Daily News.

"So you know, I can’t blame the system. It’s unfortunate that we make such easy work for them,” the Academy Award-winning actor added.

What else has he said about it?

Washington explained that he has personal experience growing up around fatherless homes in the black community.

"I grew up with guys who did decades [in prison] and it had as much to do with their fathers not being in their lives as it did to do with any system,” he said in an earlier interview with Reuters.

"By the time we got to 13, 14, different things happened," Washington explained. "Now I was doing just as much as they were, but they went further ... I just didn't get caught, but they kept going down that road and then they were in the hands of the system. But it's about the formative years. You're not born a criminal."

Is Washington's position widely accepted in the black community?

No. Just as the movie's director, Dan Gilroy, told Reuters, many people in the black community believe there still exists a disparity in American society between black and white people.

"Our prison system needs reform at a fundamental level. We have the highest incarceration rate of any place in the Western world. ... It’s not racially equal, it’s not socio-economically equal," Gilroy said.

While there have been reforms in American history, some argue that Jim Crow still exists in the form of a mass incarceration prison system.

Legal scholar Michelle Alexander argued in her best-selling book, "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness," that politicians and the American criminal justice system used the "war on drugs" to oppress minority and marginalized communities — especially the black community — after the civil rights reforms of the 1960s.

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