LAGUNA BEACH, CALIFORNIA: Kevin Hart attends the WSJ Tech D.Live at Montage Laguna Beach on November 13, 2018 in Laguna Beach, California.
LAGUNA BEACH, CALIFORNIA: Kevin Hart attends the WSJ Tech D.Live at Montage Laguna Beach on November 13, 2018 in Laguna Beach, California.
Photo: Phillip Faraone/Getty Images for The Wall Street Journal and WSJ. Magazine

Kevin Hart messed up. He messed up several years ago when he decided to craft a series of homophobic tweets that still haunt him.

He messed up by refusing to do what was easy and right. As others have noted, he should have simply apologized again for the old tweets because a new, larger audience would be hearing about the tweets and his apology for the first time. Someone in his management team should have whispered that sage advice in his ear before he became history’s shortest-lived Oscars host.


He messed up by not understanding what Stan Lee told us long ago, that with great power comes great responsibility. And if you don’t want to go the Marvel Comics route, the Bible said something similar long before Lee was born: “To whom much is given, much is required.”

So this isn’t a sympathy post for Hart. But he raised a fair question anyway. For how long and how many times must a person be held accountable for past mistakes, even after they’ve been held to account multiple times?

That’s a question we must ask, not just about a homophobic past for which a person has repeatedly repented, but about the criminal justice system itself. Given the never-ending racial disparities within the system, how we answer will also have a disproportionate affect on black people. If we decide on never-ending punishment and scorn, black people will be hurt most. If we decide on proportionate punishment and a chance at redemption, black people will benefit most.

It was just a month ago we celebrated when Florida voters restored the right to vote to residents who had been convicted of felonies. That would not have happened if voters didn’t decide that once a person had been held accountable for the wrong he (or she) committed, he should be allowed to redeem himself. I think it’s wiser that we follow the lead of Florida voters than those who insist that someone like Hart should forever be tagged “homophobe” even after he’s made amends.


Maybe Hart raised the issue primarily because he was being personally and negatively affected. No matter his motivations, it’s a long overdue discussion. We have to do a better job honoring and listening to and providing justice to victims, especially the most vulnerable among us. But if our default is set to the harshest punishment possible, for as long as possible, we will create more victims than necessary, and the cycle will never end.

Bailey is a Harvard University Nieman Fellow and author of the book, "My Brother Moochie: Reclaiming Dignity in the Face of Crime, Poverty and Racism in the American South." He's a husband and father.

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