As a child of the '80s it took me a while to buy Mark
Wahlberg’s transition to serious actor. I’d seen one too many ridiculous Marky Mark
videos that offended my musical taste, which was shaped by Madonna and Prince. And that underwear ad? I was a good Catholic
school girl—it positively scandalized me. Somewhere between "Three Kings"
and "The Fighter," however, I came
around. Somewhere I read about his devotion
to his Catholic faith and his four children, which pushed me fully into
My admiration of his work was superficial, though. I never
delved deep into Wahlberg’s biography, so I didn’t know about his past arrests
and criminal record for hate crimes.
Back in 1986, I was busy listening to my "Lucky Star" scorning white rap music while Wahlberg, then a young
teenage punk, was engaging in racially-motivated hate crimes, including
attacking a group of “mostly black fourth-grade students” with rocks and
chasing them down a street while yelling racial epithets. Two years later, Wahlberg, at the ripe old
age of 16, attacked two Vietnamese men “while trying to steal beer near his
Dorchester home.” Reports indicated that
one of the men was left blind in one eye.
Suddenly, it’s a lot more complicated to be on Team
This has all come to light recently because Wahlberg has
filed an application asking the Governor of Massachusetts to erase the record
of those crimes. In his application,
Wahlberg described his 1988 assault on the Vietnamese man as the misguided
actions of a foolish high school burn out who was intoxicated.
A rare pardon going to a man with so many resources, while other worthy-but-not-famous former felons must continue to suffer the consequences, is fundamentally unfair.
For his crimes, Wahlberg served his time: For the first
incident he got off with a stern warning; for the second, he was convicted as
an adult of two counts of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon. He served 45 days. The pardon would mean that
Wahlberg no longer has the legal stigma of his felony record, which in turn
would allow him and his brothers to expand their restaurant Wahlburgers, which
is the subject of a reality TV show on A&E. (Because Mark Wahlberg has a felony record, some states, like
California, may refuse to give them a license to operate.) Wahlberg also stated that the pardon would
serve as an inspiration for other troubled youths—they too can turn their lives
around and become role models.
Some of his victims are in favor of the pardon. They say he’s
done his time and gone on to helm a foundation that aids troubled youth. Others argue that it would be unfair for him
to receive the pardon that would make it seem like the incident “never
As upstanding as Wahlberg has become, and as worthy as he is
of our forgiveness, does he deserve a pardon? Pardons in Massachusetts are hard to come by: Only four have been
granted in the last dozen years. Today,
he’s one of at least 70 people who have applied for a pardon from Governor Deval
Patrick. With so few pardons granted, it
hardly seems fair that Wahlberg, who has celebrity, a thriving acting and
directing career, and a close family with a thriving restaurant should be able
to snatch up a pardon. Presumably, of
the other 69 felons who’ve sought pardons, some of them have turned their lives
around too, making contributions to their communities. None of them have been nominated for an Academy
Award or hung out with George Clooney.
Does Wahlberg deserve forgiveness for the crimes he
committed as a youth? Absolutely. Does
he deserve to skip ahead of 69 other convicted felons to receive a pardon that
would allow him to expand a hamburger franchise (and increase ratings for his
family’s reality TV show)? No. A rare pardon going to a man with so many
resources, while other worthy-but-not-famous former felons must continue to
suffer the consequences of a felony conviction, is fundamentally unfair.
I’m willing to believe that Wahlberg has matured beyond the
violence and racism of his youth. I will
continue to watch his movies, and I may even eat one of his family’s burgers if
I’m in the Boston area. But I do not
support giving him privileged access to a legal pardon simply because he’s rich