42-Year-Old Washington Man Confronts 11-Year-Old Black Boy And Asks ‘Are You Going to Talk to a White Man Like That?’ Before Punching Him In Random, ‘Unprovoked’ Attack

What should have been an enjoyable school field trip with friends turned into a violent nightmare for one sixth-grade boy in Bellingham, Washington, after he became the target of a racially motivated hate crime.

Police took swift action, arresting Paul Jonathan Bittner, who is white, on charges of assault of a child in the second degree and malicious harassment, according to Whatcom County Jail. He’s being held on $500,000 bond.

Washington man charged with hate crime punching black kid
Paul Jonathan Bittner makes court appearance (Credit: Tri-City Herald Video Screenshot)

On June 12, the 11-year-old student was walking back to school with his classmates and teachers after visiting a nearby film school when Bittner, 42, suddenly joined their group, according to a written statement by the school’s principal.

Bittner allegedly pushed the child and verbally harassed him, asking the boy, “Are you going to talk to a white man like that?” the Tri-City Herald reported. The assault escalated when Bittner allegedly punched the child in the face. The unprovoked attack occurred right in front of the police station.

“Absolutely a hate crime,” Police Chief Rebecca Mertzig told KIRO 7. “This gentleman, unprovoked, attacked a child for his race.”

The Bellingham School District confirmed that the boy suffered a chipped tooth, though further details about his injuries have not been revealed.

According to witnesses, Bittner tried to run away after punching the child but was chased down by a teacher before being arrested, after which he allegedly continued to spew racist vitriol.

In the wake of the attack, school and city officials have fired off several statements.

The district superintendent, Dr. Greg Baker, issued a press release after the assault, denouncing racism and thanking the school community for rallying around the victim, adding that they were collecting “notes and messages of kindness” for him.

“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 on the school’s website, hinting at more action to come. “We look forward to the community coming together to denounce racism and take action against hatred.”

Whatcom Middle School Principal Mischelle Darragh also released a statement on the day of the incident, conveying her anger and shock over what happened.  She promised counseling support for impacted students “as long as it’s needed.”

According to 2002 Census data, the Black population of Bellingham is just 1.26 percent, and the majority of residents — some 78 percent  — are white.  Bellington Mayor Kim Lund and Mertzig noted the community “has work to do” in a joint video released on Facebook.

“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.”

“Our hearts go out to the child who experienced this terrible assault and the children who witnessed it,” Lund continued. Mertzig reminded viewers that a “hate crime” or “biased incident” warrants a call to 911, adding that “hate is not welcome here in Bellingham.”

Bittner made his first court hearing on June 13 and has not yet been released on bond.

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