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Why Pardoning Mark Wahlberg Is Unfair

Photograph by Instagram

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 fandom.

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.

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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 Wahlberg.

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 happened.”

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.

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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 and famous.

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