One of Mark Wahlberg’s victims has publicly backed the actor’s effort to secure a pardon for his 1988 attack on two Vietnamese immigrants. But Judith Beals, the attorney who prosecuted Wahlberg, doesn’t agree, writing this week that the Hollywood star hasn’t “acknowledged the racial nature of his crimes.”
“As private citizen, I see no reason why that history should be erased from the public record through a pardon,” Beals wrote in an editorial published in the Boston Globe. “While private acts of reconciliation and forgiveness can be an important part of our shared racial history, that history should never be erased.”
Two years before Wahlberg attacked Thanh Lam and Hoa Trinh, a civil rights injunction was filed against him and a group of friends after they “hurled rocks” and yelled racial epithets at black elementary school students who were on a class field trip, Beals writes. The court order, she notes, “essentially amounted to a stern warning: if you do this again, you will go to prison.”
And Wahlberg did. In 1988, at the age of 16, Wahlberg was tried as an adult and convicted of assaulting Lam and Trinh. According to court documents, police alleged that Wahlberg knocked Lam unconscious with a 5-foot stick, punched Trinh in the face and used racial slurs during the attacks.
“In the 13 years I served in the attorney general’s office, I recall only one instance of a defendant violating a civil rights injunction — Mark Wahlberg,” Beals wrote. “His attack on Thanh Lam and Hoa Trinh showed the same tendency toward serial acts of racial violence. The two men had no connection except for the fact that they were both Vietnamese. Wahlberg’s repeated racial epithets revealed an equally racist motivation, albeit toward a different class – making clear that bigotry harbors no boundaries.”
In November, Wahlberg, now 43, filed a petition for a pardon of the assault, a move that has become a flashpoint in a larger debate about judicial reform, racial justice and public forgiveness.
In his application, Wahlberg noted that the attacks took place while he was intoxicated and after he attempted to steal alcohol from a convenience store. “I am deeply sorry for the actions that I took on the night of April 8, 1988, as well as for any lasting damage that I may have caused the victims,” Wahlberg wrote. “Since that time, I have dedicated myself to becoming a better person and citizen so that I can be a role model to my children and others.”
Trinh told the Daily Mail last month he forgives Wahlberg for the attack, saying Wahlberg was “young and reckless” at the time and that “everyone deserves another chance.”
“I would like to see him get a pardon. He should not have the crime hanging over him any longer,” said Trinh, who now goes by Johnny. “He paid for his crime when he went to prison. I am not saying that it did not hurt when he punched me in the face, but it was a long time ago.”
Advocates of Wahlberg’s effort say it serves as an example of the convoluted pardon process and shows how criminal records can hurt people long after they’ve been rehabilitated. The Foundation for Criminal Justice’s Richard Lipsky wrote in the Globe that Wahlberg’s pardon can serve as “a powerful statement” that true redemption requires societal forgiveness.
“Even with all of his success, great wealth, and fame, he is still being punished for juvenile wrongdoing and is asking that society forgive him because he is no longer the person who committed that conduct,” Lipsky wrote.
Several years after the assault, Wahlberg achieved some measure of fame as a hip-hop performer; Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch’s 1991 debut album, “Music for the People,” produced two Top 10 hits, “Good Vibrations” and “Wildside.” Wahlberg then became a Calvin Klein underwear model before launching his acting career, whose highlights include his Academy Award-nominated role in “The Departed.”
In 2014, then-Gov. Deval Patrick approved pardons for only four of the more than five dozen people who had applied. “You file a petition and it’s sort of a waiting game to find out if you get a hearing,” Boston defense lawyer Rosemary C. Scapicchio told the Globe. “If someone high-profile like Wahlberg wants to get a pardon and he’s able to secure a hearing, then maybe it gives a road map to the rest of us.”
But not everyone who had been victimized by Wahlberg thinks he deserves to be pardoned. Kristyn Atwood was 9 when Wahlberg and some of his friends threw rocks and yelled racial slurs at black elementary school children on a field trip. One of the rocks hit her in the forehead. “For him to try to get it overturned and make it seem like it never happened? I don’t think that’s fair,” Atwood, now 38, told the Globe.
The attack on Atwood and her classmates has left a lasting mark. “When people talk about racism in Boston, I always remember that,” she said.
And it’s that legacy of racism that Beals points to, writing that Walhberg’s pardon would send the wrong message that different standards apply to the rich, white and famous.
“History tells us, again and again, that when it comes to hate crimes, forgetting is not the right path,” Beals wrote. “Truth and reconciliation are all important in moving forward — but not a public wiping of the record. Not now when hate crime remains so high in Boston; not now when tension remains acute over the unpunished killings of black men at the hands of unaccountable white men. And frankly, not ever.”
In his pardon petition, Wahlberg noted that he hasn’t shied away from his past and that he’s used his fame to warn other young people against committing similar mistakes. He also cited his philanthropic work, including $9.6 million raised by the Mark Wahlberg Youth Foundation.
“I question whether that truly is ‘extraordinary’ for someone who earned $32 million last year and who has a net worth of at least $200 million,” Beals wrote.
There’s also a business element to the pardon for Wahlberg, who has an interest in the restaurant Wahlburgers. He said in his petition that his criminal record prevents him from getting a concessionaire’s license in California.
But he also said that a pardon would serve as an official public redemption to someone who has dedicated his life to good works: “My hope is that, if I receive a pardon, troubled youths will see this as an inspiration and motivation that they too can turn their lives around and be formally accepted back into society.”