Police say Paul Jonathan Bittner beat a Bellingham sixth-grader in a racist hate crime

A white man in Washington was arrested and released on $500,000 bail after allegedly targeting a black sixth-grader who was out with classmates on a school trip.

Paul Jonathan Bittner, 42, was charged with malicious harassment and second-degree child abuse, according to the Whatcom County Detention Center.

While walking to a nearby film center on Wednesday, students at Whatcom Middle School, which is part of the Bellingham school district, were near the Bellingham Police Department when Bittner allegedly joined their group, a statement from the school said.

Bittner is said to have pushed a black student and asked how the child would behave towards a white man, the Tri-City Herald.

“Do you want to talk to a white man like that?” Bittner is said to have asked the student.

Bittner then allegedly punched the student in the face. The Bellingham School District did not provide details on the student's injuries, but said he suffered a broken tooth as a result of Bittner's alleged attack, the newspaper reported.

The child's name was not released.

In a statement to The Daily Beast, the Bellingham school's communications director declined to verify whether the student was the only black child in the group, saying that for privacy reasons, they could not reveal the ethnic identities of the other students.

Not long after, Bittner was arrested and was constantly hurling racist insults, according to the Tri-City Herald.

Mischelle Darragh, principal of Whatcom Middle School, posted a statement on the school's website following the incident, saying the victim was “receiving support” after being “physically attacked” and the target of “racist comments.”

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

“We will provide additional counseling support to all students for as long as it is needed,” she continued. “Today, sixth graders will end the day with a class circle where students can share their feelings and concerns.”

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

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

“Bellingham Public Schools is absolutely against anti-Black racism and racism in all forms,” ​​Baker said in a statement on the school 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 impacts our systems and the lives of many individuals and families in profound ways. It is a shared responsibility to address and dismantle these injustices.”

He wrote that the district is collecting notes and well wishes for the student and his family and that they “appreciate the outpouring of support and concern.”

“We look forward to the community coming together to denounce racism and take a stand against hate,” Baker wrote. “I look forward to your thoughts and feedback.”

Bittner had his first court hearing on Thursday. The Spokesman Reviewwhere the victim's family, community activists, Bellingham Mayor Kim Lund and Bellingham Police Chief Rebecca Mertzig appeared.

Lund and Mertzig also posted a video on the City of Bellingham’s Facebook page addressing the alleged hate crime and vowing that they “will [their] Community against hate and discrimination.”

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

Bittner has not yet been released on bail.