Award-winning actor Denzel Washington said that people “can’t blame the system” in referring to rates of incarceration of black men. He said, "If a young man doesn't have a father figure, he'll go find a father figure." Speaking to the epidemic of absent fathers, Washington said, "If a young man doesn't have a father figure, he'll go find a father figure."

Washington spoke to reporters at the New York premiere for his new film, "Roman J. Israel, Esq."  He said that the film focuses on the Los Angeles criminal court system, but it has not made him cynical about the "prison-industrial complex." He said that the issue of black incarceration rates starts before prison. "It starts at the home," said the Oscar winner. "It starts at home."

"It starts with how you raise your children," the 62-year-old said. "If a young man doesn't have a father figure, he'll go find a father figure."

"So you know I can't blame the system. It's unfortunate that we make such easy work for them," Washington continued.

Washington has portrayed numerous real-life figures such as South African anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko in Cry Freedom, Malcolm X in Malcolm X, boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter in The Hurricane, football coach Herman Boone in Remember the Titans, and drug kingpin Frank Lucas in American Gangster. He has directed the biographical film Antwone Fisher, The Great Debaters, and Fences.

Referring to his own real life, Washington said, "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, "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," he said. "But it's about the formative years. You're not born a criminal."
 

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Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat and the editor of Spero News.

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