Last week, actor Mark Wahlberg said in an interview at the Toronto Film Festival that he “regrets” filing a request in late 2014 to be pardoned for an assault conviction after he beat an elderly Vietnamese American man in 1988. I first reported about Wahlberg’s request in 2014, and that post quickly became one of the most shared posts in the blog’s history (crashing my server and necessitating a host migration; thanks Marky Mark!).
In that post, I described the details of the assault involving a teenaged Mark Wahlberg:
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 “gook” and “slant-eyed gooks”.
Initially charged with attempted murder, Wahlberg later plead guilty to assault and served forty-five days in jail stemming from the 1988 assault.
In 2014, Wahlberg sought a pardon from the governor of Massachusetts in the assault charge, explaining that:
[R]eceiving 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 noted in his formal request that the filing was related to Wahlberg’s family-owned “Wahlburgers” chain of restaurants, which Wahlberg owns in part and which was seeking a liquor license at the time of the submission.
Renewed interest in Wahlberg’s assault conviction drew the widespread ire of the Asian American community, particularly in light of the fact that Wahlberg had never demonstrated particular remorse for his actions as a teenager. In 1993, Wahlberg issued a terse apology for the assault conviction via a spokesperson after protests jointly organized by CAAAV and the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). Although he had agreed to appear in a series of anti-racism and anti-homophobia PSAs, those PSAs never materialized. In 2014, after news of the pardon request became widespread, nearly 15,500 signatures were collected on an 18MillionRising petition demanding that the governor’s office deny the pardon request.
In the wake of the backlash, Wahlberg met with his victim, Hoa Trinh, in 2014 who reportedly forgives Wahlberg and believes that the actor should receive the formal pardon he requested. However, Kristyn Atwood, who is Black and who was a victim of an earlier incident of racist bullying involving Wahlberg and friends says the pardon is unwarranted.
Nearly two years later, Wahlberg now expresses regret for filing the initial pardon request. Wahlberg said to reporters for The Wrap:
“I didn’t need [the pardon], I spent 28 years righting the wrong. I didn’t need a piece of paper to acknowledge it. I was kind of pushed into doing it, I certainly didn’t need to or want to relive that stuff over again.”
“…I was relieved to find out that the injuries to his eye had occurred in the early ’70s and not from the incident that happened that night. But I was able to meet with him and his wife and his daughter and apologize for those horrific acts. Some good did come out of it.”
Today, just days after that Toronto Film Festival interview, Wahlberg has now apparently formally abdicated his interest in the pardon request. When the Massachusetts Parole Board recently wrote to Wahlberg asking if the actor remained interested in the pardon, they received no response and decided not to pursue further actions on the request.
In explaining his contrition regarding the 1988 assault, Wahlberg expressed in 2014 — and again last week — that he has spend the better part of his adult life trying to “right the wrong” of his violent past. Yet, although Wahlberg has apologized to one of his victims and has dedicated his philanthropic efforts towards at-risk youth, he has still to date done little to address the root problem of anti-Asian and anti-Black intolerance that is inextricably entangled in the details of his 1988 crimes.
As a firm supporter of restorative justice, I believe that Mark Wahlberg should be granted an opportunity to make amends for his crimes. But, I believe that given the racial nature of those assaults, those amends must include some form of address and redress for the impact of hate-motivated violence against marginalized peoples.
Wahlberg remains among the highest paid actors in Hollywood. Now is the time for the actor to commit to doing some real anti-racism and other anti-oppression work in (and for) communities of color and other marginalized communities. Now is the time for him to revisit his 1993 promise to appear in videotaped PSAs combating racism and homophobia. In 2014, I pointed out that organizations like CAAAV operate on an annual budget equivalent to 2% of Wahlberg’s take-home pay for his appearance in Transformers. Now is also the time for Wahlberg to commit to donating sizable portions of money to CAAAV, GLAAD, and/or other organizations doing good work fighting systemic racism and other structural inequities.