11-year-old victim of alleged hate crime in Bellingham tells his story

BELLINGHAM, Wash. — A middle school field trip took a horrific turn in Bellingham. Police say last week a 6th grade student became the victim of an alleged hate crime. An 11-year-old boy was punched in the face because of his race.

“Absolutely a hate crime,” says Chief of Police, Rebecca Mertzig.

Court documents allege that 42-year-old Paul Jonathan Bittner, approached a group of 6th graders who were walking back to Whatcom Middle School following a field trip, and targeted a young student.

“I was walking along the sidewalk and then he crossed the street. And he got up in from of me and my friend and punched me in the face,” says the boy. “After he punched me, he pushed me and then he said, ‘Are you going to talk to a white man like that?”’

“This gentleman unprovoked, attacked a child for his race,” says Chief Mertzig, who tells KIRO 7 she is angry and heartbroken after learning of the attack.

“I was mad, sad, confused. I was a bunch of different emotions,” says the boy.

The incident happened down the street from the Bellingham Police Department. Police say a teacher chased after the suspect, before he was arrested by police.

“The toughest part about this is that my son was doing nothing. Nothing wrong. And was attacked. Attacked because of his skin color. Because he didn’t look like his attacker,” says Devante, the victim’s father.

Chief Mertzig says the suspect continued to make racially-charged remarks following his arrest.

Bittner was arraigned last Thursday and remains in the Whatcom County Jail. Bittner faced a hate crime charge and Assault of a Minor. His bail is set at $500,000.

Devante went to Bittner’s first arraignment to ask the judge for a high bail, believing Bittner is a serious danger to his son and the community.

“We have a responsibility to protect others. Others that look like us and others that don’t look like us from hate,” says Devante. “This is not indicative of what happens here in Bellingham and Whatcom County. And so at any glance of hatred, we have to point it out. And we have to be loud about it, so that it can get cut off.”

Chief Mertzig tells KIRO 7, hate has no place in Bellingham.

“Our community is very inclusive, and this is something we’re not gonna tolerate,” says Chief Mertzig.

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