Dear Mr. Wahlberg:
On April 8th, 1988 you struck an innocent Vietnamese man so viciously that he immediately fell unconscious while you shouted racial slurs at him. You then fled from police and asked another Vietnamese gentleman to hide you. When you had been successfully shielded by him, you punched him so forcefully that you permanently blinded him in one eye and then ran off shouting more racial slurs. You were 16 at the time and although you had been in trouble with the law previously for violent and racially motivated crimes and the maximum sentence for your charge was 10 years, you were only given a 2-year sentence. You ended up serving just FORTY-FIVE DAYS of that sentence, despite your checkered history.
On November 26, 2014 you submitted a petition to the Massachusetts Board of Pardons to have your convictions expunged, stating that a pardon would be ‘formal recognition that I am not the same person I was…’. I guess the first thing people are thinking is why? Why, when no pardons have been issued in Massachusetts since 2002, do you deserve one? Because you were a free man after just 45 days? Because you’ve since made millions of dollars? You state it’s because you’ve raised almost $10 million for your foundation since 2001. This is admirable, but even if we assume that the $10 million came straight from you and no other donors, as a percentage of your $200 million wealth given overtime, this is really quite ordinary. It’s estimated that people who earn over $200,000 a year give away 3.1% of their wealth. What you’re citing as a reason for your pardon is comparable to the general population.
You also say you deserve a pardon because it would allow you to work more closely with law enforcement. Well thank you very much Mr. Wahlberg but Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and countless others have already happened without you being involved. Ok, so that’s not entirely fair. But truly, you have a history of hideously violent behavior (like when you beat a man so violently you broke his jaw and then paid him for his silence). We’re not talking about a scuffle here. We’re talking serious, life-altering, documented violence. Law enforcement is a high-stress, physical occupation and you’ve repeatedly shown that you’re not afraid to get overly physical. If you were anyone else applying for a job in law enforcement, your application would be rejected. What is it that you have to offer this field that is so exceptional that your past can and should be erased?
You state that granting a pardon would show other offenders that they can turn their lives around. While I might personally agree that prevention or opportunity is a better motivator for good behavior than deterrents or recriminalizing people, this is the system we live in. I would gladly debate with you the merits of opportunities vs deterrents to help reduce recidivism, but that’s not what you’re arguing nor have you started any such campaign to change the system. This really makes it seem like you just want the pardon so that you can make more money.
Perhaps what’s so confusing is why you think your petition should be granted just because you haven’t been violent and/or racist recently? That’s quite a normal occurrence for most people and it certainly doesn’t make you look good when highlight that as an accomplishment. And while you’ve done a lot of (public) good, why haven’t you reached out to the communities that you terrorized? If you have, then you need to get new PR people but surely a more inspirational story for ex-convicts and at-risk youth would be engagement with those you terrorized and not simply just seeking a pardon?
A final burning question is when do the breaks (or formal recognitions) stop for Mark Wahlberg? Despite being a horrifically racist and violent person, you were able to erase this and have a successful career. Clearly you’re talented and hardworking but so are many people who leave prison. You claim this pardon isn’t about entitlement but how do you think your treatment and punishment would have differed if you had been black or Hispanic and the people you attacked had been white? You may not want to deal with these questions, but when you ask for this extraordinary treatment, you’re opening up the wider debate about the criminal justice system and central to that is the issue of race. If you want to be a champion for ex-convicts that’s commendable but these questions are part of that title. People doubt your motives because despite wanting to be the poster child for the criminal justice system working, you choose to ignore the debate about the system. This makes you seem disingenuous and quite frankly undeserving of a pardon.
Despite your ridiculous petition, I would still like to thank you. You see, just like you, I have children and I want to teach them how to make this world a better place. Part of that is teaching them that the system is unfair but that we can change it. But when someone like me raises the very real and obvious double standard between whites and non-whites in the (judicial, legal, just general) system, people roll their eyes. Even when I cite studies and statistics and even when we have law enforcement on camera using fatal force against non-whites, people still roll their eyes at the minority harping on about race. But when you talk about wanting ‘formal recognition’ from the state, you do my job for me. So while I abhor your petition and your actions, I am inclined to highlight them because you show me, my children, and the rest of the world that you are the very definition of white privilege. Your actions prove it in a way that no study or statistic ever could. So thank Mr. Wahlberg for showing us all that white privilege is alive, well, and very, very real.
*believe it or not, this is the abridged version of this letter. The original can be found at www.whatdoitellmykids.com