Denzel Washington on Black Incarcerations: “Don’t Blame the System”

In the film “Roman J. Israel, Esq.,” Oscar-winning actor Denzel Washington plays a criminal defense attorney who partners with young civil rights activists and lawyers to address social injustice. The character’s idealistic beliefs are tested when he joins a new law firm — but Washington himself says the law is pretty straight forward.

The “Malcolm X” star surprisingly said making the movie didn’t cause him to be more skeptical about the American justice system. According to the New York Daily News, when confronted about the prison-industrial fixation, Washington stated, “It starts at the home.” He went on to comment, “So you know I can’t blame the system.”

The Hollywood actor expounded on his feelings about African American incarcerations during an interview with theGrio at a special advanced screening of the film at New York’s Henry R. Luce Auditorium.

“If the father is not in the home the boy will find a father in the streets…and if the streets raise you, then the judge becomes your mother and prison becomes your home,” he said.

He lamented that he’s seen this same sad scenario play out over and over again in both generations born before and after his own.

According to data collected by the United States Census Bureau, 69 percent of American children under the age of 18 live in families with two parents. However, while 74.3 percent of Caucasian kids live with both parents, only 38.7 percent of African American youngsters do. More than one-third of African American children in the United States reside with unmarried mothers. The Federal Bureau of Prisons reported on October 28, 2017 that 37.9 percent of prison inmates in the United States are African American. However, 2016 United States Census data estimates only 14.5 percent of the population in this country is African American.

Despite these troubling statistics, Washington remains optimistic about change. During his interview with theGrio, the revered actor credited young people in the 1990’s for his positive outlook. He reminisced about a speech scene he acted during the filming of “Malcolm X” at Columbia University. A crowd of Columbia University students were at the event.

When he wasn’t shooting takes, he talked with the young adults present about how tough the world was. He asked the students if they felt like giving up. To his surprise, they voiced, “Oh, no no, we’re gonna change it.” During the recent interview, the Oscar winner said, “So I pray that young people never lose that fire, I don’t think they will. And needless to say there’s a lot for them to work on.”

Washington’s responses about African American imprisonments were a stark, refreshing contrast to what most liberal celebrities and politicians alike offer on the serious subject. In a scathing op-ed piece for the New York Times published on November 17, 2017, musician and businessman Jay-Z said, “our criminal justice system entraps and harasses hundreds of thousands of black people every day.” His diatribe stemmed from his belief fellow rapper Meek Mill’s two-to-four-year prison sentencing earlier this month for a probation violation dating back to a 2008 gun case was unjust. Incidentally, Mill is signed to Jay-Z’s entertainment company Roc. Nation.

In the piece, Jay-Z also stated, “it’s time we highlight the random ways people trapped in the criminal justice system are punished every day. The system treats them as a danger to society, consistently monitors and follows them for any minor infraction — with the goal of putting them back in prison.”

The insinuation that people working in the criminal justice system are waiting with bated breath to catch parolees commit minor wrongdoings so they can immediately haul them back to prison and throw away the key is ludicrous.

Judge Genece E. Brinkley, who sentenced the rapper earlier this month, sees the case differently than Jay-Z.

“I gave you break after break, and you basically just thumbed your nose at this court,” she told Mill.

Mill’s incarceration was associated with a pair of arrests made earlier this year. The first incident involved an altercation at an airport while the second event related to a reckless driving charge while Mill was making a music video. The charges in the first case were dropped. Mill accepted a dismissal deal in the other one. Judge Brinkley made the decision to lock Mill up after he failed a drug test and failed to abide by an order that restricted his travel.

Perhaps, instead of ranting about freeing a convicted criminal who violated his probation, Jay-Z should have a talk with fellow celebrity Denzel Washington. Promoting two parent households and the rehabilitation of convicted criminals seem like much smarter solutions than demanding probation violators be released.

~ Liberty Planet