Police Allege Man Punched Sixth-Grader in Racist Hate Crime

Ian Dewar / Alamy
Ian Dewar / Alamy

A white man in Washington has been arrested and placed on a $500,000 bail after allegedly targeting and attacking a Black sixth-grade student walking with classmates during a field trip.

Paul Jonathan Bittner, 42, has been charged with malicious harassment and the assault of a child in the second-degree, according to the Whatcom County Jail.

During a walking field trip to a nearby film center Wednesday, students from Whatcom Middle School, part of the Bellingham School District, were near the Bellingham Police Department when Bittner allegedly joined in with their group, according to a statement issued from the school.

Bittner allegedly pushed a Black student and questioned how the child would act towards a white man, according to the Tri-City Herald.

“Are you going to talk to a white man like that?” Bittner allegedly asked the student.

Then, Bittner allegedly punched the student in the face. Bellingham School District has not released the full details of the student’s injuries, but did say that he had a chipped tooth from his alleged attack from Bittner, the newspaper reported.

The child’s name has not been released.

In a statement to The Daily Beast, the Bellingham schools communications director would not verify if the student was the only Black child in the group and said they could not provide the racial identities of the other students for the sake of privacy.

Not long afterwards, Bittner was arrested and steadily hurled racial slurs, according to the Tri-City Herald.

Whatcom Middle School Principal Mischelle Darragh issued a statement on the school’s website after the incident, saying the victim was “receiving support” after being “physically assaulted” and being the target of “racist comments.”

“We are angry and shocked by what happened today,” Darragh stated. “These events are extremely upsetting for everyone at our school and beyond. We are wrapping around our students and doing all we can to support them.

“We will have additional counseling support available to all students as long as it’s needed,” she continued. “Today, sixth graders will be concluding the day with a classroom circle where students can share their feelings and concerns.”


Darragh added that police were investigating the incident as a hate crime.

Bellingham School District Superintendent Dr. Greg Baker also addressed the attack, calling it “an act of racism.”

“Bellingham Public Schools is absolutely opposed to anti-Black racism, and racism in all forms,” Baker issued in a statement on the district’s website. “Our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion is not just a statement but a Promise to all students. We recognize that racism is deeply rooted and affects our systems and the lives of many individuals and families in profound ways. It is a collective responsibility to address and dismantle these injustices.”

He wrote that the district was collecting notes and well wishes for the student and the student’s family who “appreciate the outpouring of support and empathy.”

“We look forward to the community coming together to denounce racism and take action against hatred,” Baker wrote. “I welcome your thoughts and feedback.”

Bittner made his first court hearing on Thursday, according to The Spokesman-Review, where the victim’s family, community activists, Bellingham Mayor Kim Lund, and Bellingham Police Chief Rebecca Mertzig made an appearance.

Lund and Mertzig also shared a video on the City of Bellingham Facebook page, addressing the alleged hate crime and vowing that they “stand with [their] community against hate and discrimination.”

“The incident yesterday involving a child is intolerable,” Lund said. “Acts of violence and intolerance are a painful reminder that we have work to do as a community and nation to prevent and respond to discrimination and hate crimes.”

Bittner has so far not been released on bail.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

Get the Daily Beast's biggest scoops and scandals delivered right to your inbox. Sign up now.

Stay informed and gain unlimited access to the Daily Beast's unmatched reporting. Subscribe now.