In the United Kingdom, police in South Wales are investigating an alleged incident of school-based, racially motivated harassment which resulted in a young Black boy getting his finger amputated last week.
After news about the incident went viral, the school closed for health reasons, and international outrage, including some from celebrities, poured in to show support for the 11-year-old as his mother says she is struggling with explaining racism to her child.
On Tuesday, May 17, Raheem Bailey was allegedly assaulted by students on the campus of the secondary school in South Wales, the Abertillery Learning Community. The allegation was lodged by his mother, Shantal Bailey, who took to social media to detail how he fled the “bullies,” but injured himself while trying to climb over a gate.
During his escape from the juvenile mob, he snagged his right-hand ring finger.
In an interview with Sky News about what happened to her son, she said, “While he was climbing over, he had a ring on, and his ring attached to the fence and it ripped but also broke his finger. Basically, he was running away because he was so tired of being picked on every day.”
Bailey posted the information on her Facebook, saying this was not the first time the child felt unsafe and shared he started experiencing “racial and physical abuse, as well as more generic bullying about his height among other things” in September 2021.
She wrote, “Raheem called me in tears whilst I was at work, saying that he’s being bullied and that the teacher threatened him with detention despite him being the one that’s getting picked on. After work, I attended the school and informed them that all this needed to stop. I was then reassured that everything would be handled by the Tuesday morning.”
Bailey noted it was not, explaining how her son was beaten up by other students. She continued to write, “He was pushed to the ground and then repeatedly kicked.”
“Raheem made a desperate attempt to leave the school grounds in order to escape the situation,” she continued before revealing how after being notified about the injury, the school did not allow her to take her son to the hospital.
“The school told me that the ambulance wouldn’t arrive for 2 hours but advised me not to drive Raheem to A&E myself,” Bailey wrote. “Raheem, his baby brother, and I were taken to a minor injuries unit by the school bus, despite them knowing that his injury was severe. We spent the next five hours waiting for an ambulance to transfer us to the location where he would undergo surgery, in Swansea, 50 miles away from his home and school.”
She says after a six-hour surgery the doctors determined they had to amputate his finger.
The mother said the incident left her son in “utter agony,” said it has been difficult “having to tell your child that people might not like you because of your skin – not because you’re mean, not because you’re horrible, but just because of the skin he was born into.”
Yahoo! News reported Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council is working with local law enforcement to figure out all sides of the story. The council released a statement saying, “All campuses at Abertillery Learning Community will be closed (on Monday) on health and safety grounds. Learners will access blended learning.”
“The safety and well-being of learners and staff remains of paramount importance to the Learning Community and the Local Authority at all times,” the release assured.
Other prominent voices spoke out about the reports early on, with words of encouragement for the child and also words of disgust for the community.
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi called the situation surrounding the unfortunate amputation, “sickening.” As a public official, he said he was committed to “stamping it out” bullying, as he too was bullied as a child for being a man of color from Iraq, acknowledging attitudes of xenophobia and racially-based violence exist in the psyche of UK youth.
An official statement from The Welsh Government stated, “We condemn bullying and racial harassment in any form and expect allegations and incidents of bullying and racism to be fully investigated by schools, with appropriate action taken to address the matter and prevent further instances from happening.”
Celebrities came out in support of the child sharing kind words to lift his spirit. Bailey said she received private messages via her Instagram page from athletes like boxer Anthony Joshua and footballers Jadon Sancho and Ashley Williams. Football manager and ex-Spurs player Chris Hughton, pundit Gary Neville and Olympic BMX biker Kye Whyte were also among the names of high-profile artists that reached out to the family.
Gerald Green, a former NBA player and recently hired Houston Rockets player development coach who played his whole career with only nine fingers, set up a call to speak to Raheem directly.
The school took its time, according to the mother, to get back to her. Two days after the report, administrators still had not reached out to her. In a recent statement Superintendent Vicki Townsend said they have since been in communication, establishing this dialogue after she made the post and started a GoFundMe that raised £97,793, the equivalent of $122,846.20.
“Our officers are supporting and liaising closely with the family of the young boy who, when leaving the school grounds following the reported assault, received a serious injury to his hand as a result of it being caught in a fence,” the remarks read.
“Since we received this report, on Wednesday 18 May, there has been significant interest and coverage of this. I would urge people to think about the impact their social media posts and commentary could have on those affected, as the police investigation continues,” it further urged.
Bailey’s social media has become toxic as people with varying opinions have chimed in on the validity of the child’s story, the money raised, and racism in the community. Some people maintain there is footage of the incident saying something else happened to the boy. Others are defending the boy, with their own accounts of racism.
Local politicians are working with the school and investigators to get justice for the child or at the very least unpack a clearer picture of what happened to the pre-teen.