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The Real-Life Legal Issues Of Mark Wahlberg, Explained

Mark Wahlberg has had an interesting career path in entertainment, starting out as the cheesy rapper Marky Mark before becoming an in-demand young actor thanks to projects such as the 1996 thriller "Fear," which has since enjoyed a second life on Netflix, and 1997's "Boogie Nights." But while he's since established himself as a veteran performer who's seen his share of hits and misses across various film genres, Wahlberg has occasionally had trouble escaping his checkered past, which includes an arrest record for hate crimes committed during his youth in the Boston area.

Wahlberg, then 15 years old, and two other teenage boys were charged in 1986 with yelling racial slurs and throwing rocks at three Black children, then doing the same one day later in a separate attack on a group of mostly African American fourth-grade students on a field trip.

One of the Black fourth-graders victimized by Wahlberg and his friends told the Associated Press in 2015 that she doesn't believe the "Three Kings" star should be pardoned for the hate crimes he committed as a teen. "I don't really care who he is," said Kristyn Atwood. "It doesn't make him any exception. If you're a racist, you're always going to be a racist. And for him to want to erase it. I just think it's wrong." 

Conversely, Mary Belmonte, the teacher supervising the fourth-graders on the field trip, stressed that Wahlberg deserves forgiveness. "He didn't do it specifically because he was a bad kid," she said. "He was just a follower doing what the other kids were doing."

Mark Wahlberg was involved in multiple violent hate crimes as a teen

Mark Wahlberg was 16 years old when he was involved in yet another racially charged crime in his hometown of Boston, and this one resulted in the teenager spending time behind bars. In April 1988, Wahlberg attacked two Vietnamese men, hitting one of them with a five-foot-long stick and punching the second one in the eye; in both cases, he was accused of yelling racial slurs at the men. Multiple accounts of the crime (via The Smoking Gun) suggest that the would-be rapper-turned-actor bragged about his actions to police officers after he was placed under arrest.

Wahlberg was charged as an adult, and he served 45 days of a two-year jail sentence. In 2014, he requested a pardon from the state of Massachusetts for the assault on the Vietnamese men, expressing remorse for his past actions and acknowledging he was running with a bad crowd at that point in his life. In an interview with the Daily Mail, Johnny Trinh, one of the two victims in the 1988 attack, said that Wahlberg's pardon request should be granted. "I would like to see him get a pardon," he said, later adding, "He paid for his crime when he went to prison ... He has grown up now. I am sure he has his own family and is a responsible man."

Speaking to TheWrap in 2016, Wahlberg confirmed that he was able to personally apologize to Trinh and his family. However, he expressed regret over the pardon application, telling the outlet, "I was kind of pushed into doing it ... I certainly didn't need to or want to relive that stuff over again."

Wahlberg's racially abusive past has earned him criticism

It shouldn't be surprising that Mark Wahlberg faced widespread criticism as his sordid past got dredged up multiple times in recent years. The actor was accused of hypocrisy after he expressed sympathy for African American police brutality victim George Floyd in 2020, and many questioned why he was chosen to present an award to the primarily Asian cast of "Everything Everywhere All At Once" at the 2023 Screen Actors Guild Awards

Shortly after the 2023 SAG Awards, journalist Heather Robinson cast doubt on Wahlberg's sincerity as a public figure repeatedly apologizing for the sins of his wayward youth. "Wahlberg committed these horrific crimes as a minor, & there should be a path to redemption," she wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. "But there's something wrong with him casting himself as a saint in film after film & never even discussing the true hate crimes he committed." Other social media users wondered why Will Smith was banned from the Oscars for slapping Chris Rock while Wahlberg, a white male who assaulted two Asian men in the '80s, gave out an award to the cast of "Everything Everywhere."

Regardless of the criticism, Mark Wahlberg remains a bankable name in Hollywood, and while he hasn't exactly been free of controversy, he's thankfully stayed away from legal trouble — particularly the type of legal trouble he was known for as a teen — in his three decades as an actor.