Mark Wahlberg wants our forgiveness, or at least a chance to make even more money than he already has by expanding his family’s popular Wahlburgers food franchise to California.
Before he was the Lone Survivor, and before he was Funky, Mark Wahlberg was a 16-year-old petty criminal who enjoyed harassing and assaulting members of his Boston-area neighbourhood.
Specifically, he enjoyed beating the shit out of people of colour.
In 1988, Wahlberg was arrested and charged with attempted murder for attacking Vietnamese American Thanh Lam on April 8th of that year. According to the criminal complaint, Lam was unloading his car when Wahlberg approached him with a wooden club, called him a “Vietnam fucking shit”. He then smashed the middle-aged man in the head so severely he broke the stick in two. Wahlberg then fled with two friends when police appeared. A few blocks away from where Lam was assaulted, Walberg encountered Hoah Trinh, also Vietnamese American. Wahlberg approached Trinh and, after waiting for a police cruiser to pass, punched Trinh in the eye, permanently blinding him.
Police were able to detain Wahlberg later that night, at which point Wahlberg confessed to assaulting Lam saying, “you don’t have to let him identify me, I’ll tell you now that’s the mother-fucker who’s head I split open.” When Trinh identified Wahlberg as also having punched him in the eye, Wahlberg was arrested, at which point he reportedly let loose a string of racist anti-Asian slurs, including “g-ok” and “slant-eyed g-oks”.
The complaint also described a series of anti-Black incidents that occurred when Wahlberg was a juvenile, and therefore not subject to criminal charges as an adult. When Wahlberg was 15, Wahlberg and his friends approached 12-year-old Jesse Coleman who was with his older brother and sister. The teenagers yelled to the Colemans, “we don’t like black n-ggers in the area so get the fuck away from the area”. Wahlberg and his friends then chased them with mopeds while yelling, “Kill the n-gger! Kill the n-gger!” and throwing rocks at them until the Colemans were able to hide in a local Burger King.
The next day, Jesse Coleman identified Wahlberg and his friends to his teacher, but when confronted, the group again threw rocks at the group of Black schoolchildren and their teacher, hitting two female students. Only when the teacher hailed a passing ambulance for help did Wahlberg and his friends stop their attack and run away.
Although he was charged with attempted murder in his unprovoked attacks on Thanh Lam and Hoa Dinh in 1988, Wahlberg plead to a lesser charge of assault and served a mere 45 days in jail. He then went on to become one of Hollywood’s highest paid actors.
Now, the 43 year old actor wants a pardon. And, let me just say this: fuck no, Mark Wahlberg should not be pardoned.
I am a bleeding heart liberal who fully believes in a rehabilitative, not a punitive, criminal justice system. I oppose capital punishment. I oppose life without the possibility of parole. I believe in the pardon. I believe a justice system that gives up on those who break the law is a justice system that encourages nothing but recidivism.
But, I also believe that a pardon in this case would simply serve to erase a crime from Wahlberg’s record without evidence of remorse. Rehabilitation can only occur in good faith. And it is absolutely not clear that Wahlberg is truly apologetic for his series of racialized assaults on people of colour in Boston; it is further not clear what recent actions of remorse would by Wahlberg would justify any such pardon. Although Wahlberg writes in his petition for a pardon that he is “deeply sorry” for his behaviour in the late 1980’s, one must ask what has brought about this “sudden” change of heart?
“The more complex answer is that receiving a pardon would be a formal recognition that I am not the same person that I was on the night of April 8, 1988. It would be formal recognition that someone like me can receive official public redemption if he devotes himself to personal improvement and a life of good works,” Wahlberg wrote.
Are we really to believe that Wahlberg is so deeply moved by youth development programs that he wants his conviction overturned so that he can serve as a parole officer for wayward youth? Or could it be, as several outlets have suggested, that Wahlberg simply wants to be able to apply for a liquor license to support expansion of his Wahlburgers franchise?
I don’t know that I would say I would never support a pardon for Wahlberg, but I do know that it would take Wahlberg doing a heck of a lot more than what he’s doing now for me to have a change of heart. For starters, I’d like for Wahlberg to address not just the violence of his attacks, but also the unabashed racism of these hate crimes. Wahlberg has not, to my knowledge, reached out to the Black or the AAPI community to discuss racial equality or social justice, nor to the victims he beat. He hasn’t used his considerable economic wealth to support programs aimed specifically at communities of colour. Shit, has he even sent a single #HandsUpDontShoot tweet?
Spend your teenaged years drunk, high, and randomly assaulting people of colour so badly you permanently disable them? Go on to earn millions in Hollywood. That’s some serious #CrimingWhileWhite for your ass.
Update: A petition has been started on MoveOn.org asking that Wahlberg’s petition for a pardon be denied or withdrawn. Please sign it!
Update II: It’s been brought to my attention that in 1993, Wahlberg did issue a brief statement through his manager apologizing for the racialized aspects of his hate crimes in 1988, after pressure jointly put upon him by the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence and the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. Wahlberg’s manager read a statement to the press that included the following:
“In 1986, I harassed a group of school kids on a field trip. Many of the students were African-American. In 1988, I assaulted two Vietnamese men over a case of beer. Racist slurs and language were used during these encounters. And people were seriously hurt. I am truly sorry for what I did.”
Wahlberg was also going to participate in a few anti-racism and anti-homophobia PSAs. However, these efforts fell through when Wahlberg was charged with a subsequent anti-gay assault on a record executive. From a GLAAD/LA report of November 1993:
A few weeks back, GLAAD’s New York chapter and CAAAV, The Committee Against Anti Asian Violence, cancelled plans to produce an anti-violence television spot that would have featured Mark speaking out against hate and violence. That decision was made after the underwear poster boy assaulted a record company executive in Los Angeles. The police report filed by the bashing victim in Los Angeles stated that the altercation began when Mark “started making disparaging remarks about homosexuals.”
In 2001, Wahlberg also had a public falling out with his long-time bodyguard, Leonard Taylor, after a physical altercation between him and Taylor wherein Wahlberg allegedly made a “racially insensitive remark”.
So yes, Wahlberg did at one point apologize for the hate crimes he committed in the late 1980’s, but there are some reasons to doubt the sincerity of that press release.
Update III: 18MillionRising has also started a petition you should sign.
Update IV: The Daily Mail published an interview with Hoa “Johnny” Trinh, the second of Wahlberg’s victims, clarifying that Wahlberg did not blind him in the attack. This post’s title has been updated.