Barring New Info and Victim Comments, Gov. Baker Should Pardon Mark Wahlberg

Thursday, December 11, 2014

In a petition submitted to Governor Deval Patrick on November 26, Mark Wahlberg, a Dorchester product and a Hollywood darling, provided both “the easiest answer” and “the more complex answer” to why he wants to be pardoned for his teenage crimes.

“The easiest answer is that my past convictions still legally impact me to this day,” he wrote, “…my prior record can potentially be the basis to deny me a concessionaire’s license in California and elsewhere.”  (Wahlberg is in the restaurant business with a brother.)
In addition, he wrote, “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.  But, given my prior record, Massachusetts and California law prohibit me from actually obtaining positions in law enforcement.  If I were fortunate enough to receive a pardon, I would have the ability to become more active in law enforcement activities, including those that assist at-risk individuals.”

Then Wahlberg got to the heart of the matter.
“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,” his petition states.  “It would be a formal recognition that someone like me can receive official public redemption if he devotes himself to personal improvement and a life of 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.  It would also be an important capstone to the lessons that I try to teach my own children on a daily basis.”

As a 16-year-old, Wahlberg was the protagonist in a very ugly incident on Dorchester Avenue on that April night more than 26 years ago. According to police reports at the time, Wahlberg came upon a man, an immigrant from Vietnam, who had just purchased two cases of beer.  He proceeded to beat the man with a stick, demean him with racially tinged insults, and take the beer.  Wahlberg was arrested as he tried to run off but not before he assaulted another Vietnamese immigrant who had apparently come to the aid of the first man or just got in the way somehow.
Wahlberg was found guilty of assault and battery, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, and possession of a Class D controlled substance, marijuana.  He received a three-month jail sentence but got out after serving half of it, 45 days.

In his petition for a pardon, Wahlberg, now 43, wrote that he was “deeply sorry” for his actions that night and “for any lasting damage that I may have caused the victims.”

He added, “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.”  (Wahlberg and his wife are the parents of four children.)
Given Wahlberg’s status as a movie star and celebrity, and given the aspect of racial bias in the case, it is not surprising that his attempt at a pardon has generated a ton of news coverage and commentary.  Nor is it surprising that many people have reacted negatively to the idea of pardoning a wealthy big shot for such objectionable crimes, even if they did occur almost three decades ago when he was a street punk under the influence of illegal narcotics.  (Wahlberg was said to have been a user of cocaine at that time.)

The TPM web site offered a good sample of the anti-pardon sentiment in an opinion piece by Fitchburg State University professor Ben Railton, which was posted this past Monday, Dec. 8: “Mark Wahlberg’s Ill-Timed Pardon Bid Is the Epitome of White Privilege.”  See
“For so many Americans,” Railton wrote, “especially Asian-Americans, Latinos, black women, and most of all, black men, a criminal record permanently impacts their professional and personal futures.  A criminal conviction – indeed, even a simple arrest – can reduce their options in every part of their lives, from employment to travel to child custody to voting.  Wahlberg claims his record has denied him certain recent opportunities.  Maybe so.  But his record clearly didn’t stop him from making millions and becoming famous.”

Railton also wrote: “Many Americans might prefer to erase the histories of white crime and violence from our collective memories, just as Wahlberg now requests that his own history of violence towards people of color be legally erased.  This ability – to write history the way we choose, regardless of the facts – is a frightening example of white privilege.  Until we make these histories a fuller part of our understanding of our shared American identity, our sense of ourselves will be as partial as a bio of Wahlberg without his teenage crimes.”
Gubernatorial pardons are as rare in Massachusetts as a July 4th weekend with light traffic on the Sagamore Bridge.  The last one was granted in 2002 by then Acting Governor Jane Swift.

Pardon requests move slowly through the system, guaranteeing that Charlie Baker and not Deval Patrick will be the one with the final say on Wahlberg’s petition.  The other day, Baker answered a query on Wahlberg from the State House News Service by saying, “He should go through the process just like everybody else and on the facts of the case.  If it’s up to me to make a decision, I’ll make it at the time.”
At some distant point in 2015, after the process has run its course and the public has witnessed every step of it, I hope Baker will pardon Wahlberg.

I say that because Wahlberg has owned up to his responsibility for his crimes and has repeatedly offered apologies to the victims and expressed sorrow for his shameful actions.  I also say that because Wahlberg has donated millions of his hard-earned dollars to charities and supports worthy causes left and right.
But mainly I say it because:

One, Wahlberg had the courage and decency to seek a pardon knowing full well that request would attract world-wide attention -- and knowing it would serve to inform millions of his fans of his crimes, persons who would not otherwise have ever taken note of those crimes; and
Two, Forgiveness has to become a bigger part of our justice system.

Human beings do change and reform themselves.  They do turn their lives around. 
Isn’t that, ultimately, what we want our justice system to produce: reformed human beings?

Pardons from a governor recognize successful reformation projects.  Thereby, pardons help to encourage those who truly aspire to reform themselves, and who stay reformed.
I mean no disrespect for Deval Patrick when I express the hope that Charlie Baker will not be as stingy with pardons as Patrick has been.



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