• Ideas
  • Media

Forgive Mark Wahlberg’s Cinematic Crimes, If You Like—But Not His Real Ones

7 minute read
Brian Moylan is a writer and pop culture junkie who lives in New York. His work has appeared in Gawker, VICE, New York magazine, and a few other safe-for-work publications.

That Mark Wahlberg has a long and varied rap sheet may not surprise many. And I’m not talking about his cinematic crimes, like the latest Transformers movie and that M. Night Shyamalan movie he made with Zooey Deschanel. In 1988 Wahlberg served 45 days in jail when he was 16 for beating up two Vietnamese men (one with a five-foot-long wooden pole) who he called “gooks” and other racial slurs. He also had an injunction against him for chasing down fellow residents of Dorchester, Massachusetts, and calling them racial slurs while throwing rocks at them. In 1992, after he had morphed into rapper Marky Mark, he repeatedly kicked another man in the head. And there was also a 1996 arrest for driving a boat under the influence.

Wahlberg is looking for a pardon from his arrest for beating up those two men, for which he was charged with attempted murder and convicted of assault. No one should grant him one.

On November 26, Wahlberg filed a petition to have his conviction expunged from his record. If Governor Deval Patrick issues any pardons, he should not waste one on Mark Wahlberg. Patrick’s record of being stingy with clemency will only make it look like a rich white celebrity can get anything he wants, even if that includes having his past forgiven from any youthful indiscretions. But based on the racially motivated nature of Wahlberg’s crimes, they seem to be a lot worse than shoplifting, small amounts of drug possession, or the odd DUI (though he has one of those too) that can plague many people.

This comes at an especially bad time with the protests in Ferguson and New York City, where black Americans are expressing their anger at being treated unfairly by the cops. Then in walks Mark Wahlberg, with his huge wallet, showing everyone that if you are white and privileged in this country, you should get special treatment. Wahlberg may have the necessary funds to pay for all the lawyers to shepherd through his pardon (again, something many people can’t afford), but he needs to pay for a better publicist. Not only is this appeal bringing more attention to his past arrests, but also making him look more like a jerk than he really is.

Having a conviction on your record can keep many people from voting or securing a job, so why is the artist formerly known as Marky Mark so concerned? It’s not like he has any shortage of money. So why the need for a pardon? He lists a few reasons.

“My prior record can potentially be the basis to deny me a concessionaire’s license in California and elsewhere,” he writes. Well, that hasn’t stopped him from opening several restaurants, including Wahlbergers, which has it’s own A&E show. And should the court really be concerned that a very rich man is not able to get even richer in a certain field? No, it should not. Doesn’t Wahlberg and his considerable capital have every available outlet to expand his fortune? Yes, he does.

He has other reasons. “I have become close with many members of the local law enforcement community in Boston and Los Angeles, including as a member of the board of directors of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Youth Foundation, which is dedicated to helping at risk youth,” he writes. But his record keeps him from working with at-risk youth.

This seems like a legitimate concern, but that doesn’t mean it’s insurmountable. As Gwynn Gilford points out on Quartz, the issues that effect Wahlberg because of his conviction affect many recovered felons. Rather than making things easier for a mediocre film actor, there should instead be new policies that make it easier for all recovered felons.

Why isn’t Wahlberg out there speaking out for reform in those areas and trying to repeal the silly laws that keep convicts from working in food service, for instance? That’s the sort of policy work he could do quite easily with his public profile. Look at what Jenny McCarthy has done for vaccine nuts, and she’s not nearly as famous or as likeable. Just like Wahlberg can have any job he wants, he can also do any sort of outreach he wants for any number of other issues, conviction be damned.

But that isn’t the real reason that he wants a pardon. “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, 1998,” he writes. “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 seems to be on a bit of a redemption tour. In 2013, Wahlberg finally got his GED. He’s gotten some tattoos removed. But not everything is erased as easily, and not everything should be. I don’t doubt that Wahlberg is a much different person and regrets what he did, but the state isn’t the one that needs to tell him that. If he decides that he is a different person and has cleaned up his life, he should work that out in therapy and keep the prison board out of it. Seeking recognition from others isn’t a reason to do good things. Wanting the approval from the world at large is the kind of vanity you would only see from a celebrity. I’m sure the men he beat up, one who was left partially blind, wish that they could file some paperwork and never have been senselessly beaten on the street, but they can’t. Why should their attacker be able to do it? Because he executive produced Entourage?

Finally, and incorrectly, Wahlberg makes his plea for forgiveness seem altruistic. “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,” he writes. No, Mark, they won’t. They will see that if they get rich enough or famous enough, it won’t matter what they did as kids, they’ll be able to make it go away like a bad Etch-a-Sketch doodle. They will see his fame as the mitigating factor, not his redemption or considerable charity work. It will just give everyone another reason to want to be famous.

Also, shouldn’t he want to go in there and change these kids’ lives before they commit a felony? Shouldn’t he be speaking at schools saying, “Kids, before you commit a crime, remember that if you are convicted you won’t be able to work in a restaurant or help a charity. If you commit a crime, even if you become as rich and famous as I am, your life will still be incredibly messed up. So, kids, don’t commit crime, because that can never be erased”?

That is the message that Wahlberg should be putting out in the universe if he really wants to help kids. Now all he’s saying is that he’s above the law and, contrary to what he would like everyone to believe, that helps no one but himself.

Brian Moylan is a writer and pop culture junkie who lives in New York. His work has appeared in Gawker, VICE, New York magazine, and a few other safe-for-work publications.

More Must-Reads From TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary on events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of TIME editors.