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Racism

‘Permit Patty’: California woman threatens to call police on eight-year-old black girl for selling water

Alison Ettel faced an international backlash and the loss of business partners after her identity was revealed

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 June, 2018, 12:38pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 June, 2018, 10:20pm

A white California woman who said she was calling police on an eight-year-old black girl selling water has faced international backlash, with critics dubbing her “Permit Patty” and business partners severing ties.

Alison Ettel went viral over the weekend after footage spread of her on the phone, saying she was calling the authorities on a girl because she didn’t have a permit to sell water, drawing instant comparisons to other high-profile cases of white Americans harassing people of colour with 911 calls.

The video filmed on Saturday in San Francisco captured Ettel on the phone complaining about “illegally selling water without a permit”, as she tried to hide from the girl’s cousin who was filming her.

“This woman don’t want to let a little girl sell some water. She calling the police on an eight-year-old,” the cousin narrated, before turning to Ettel: “You can hide all you want. The whole world gonna see you.”

People uncovered Ettel’s identity soon after the publication of the videos, which were viewed more than 8 million times on Instagram and Twitter in just two days. Ettel, the CEO and founder of TreatWell, a company that makes cannabis-based tinctures, began losing business relationships within hours of the release of the footage. Meanwhile, an online supporter of the girl has since donated a trip to Disneyland for her and her family.

Ettel, who did not respond to the Guardian’s requests for comment on Monday, earlier defended her actions in numerous interviews. She told the San Francisco Chronicle, “It was wrong, and I wish I could take it back.” But in an interview with the Huffington Post, she also said “this has no racial component to it” and further claimed she was only “pretending” to call police.

Then in a statement to ABC News, Ettel said she was annoyed by the “yelling” of the mother and daughter and that she called police not to “report them”, instead saying: “I simply wanted to know if what they were doing was legal.”

The incident follows two similar controversies in the Bay Area, which despite its liberal reputation has increasingly faced scrutiny and backlash over racism and gentrification.

In Oakland, across the bay from San Francisco, a white woman was dubbed BBQ Becky and became the subject of viral memes after she called police on a group of black people barbecuing in a popular park. Weeks later, a white man nicknamed Jogger Joe faced widespread outrage when video emerged of him trashing a black homeless man’s belongings.

Black Americans have in recent months also had the police called on them while waiting in a coffee shop, napping, working out, selling real estate, moving into a new home and golfing.

In one television interview, the eight-year-old girl, identified as Jordan, said: “I did not want to see the police, because I was scared.”

Her mother, Erin Austin, told one reporter that she had recently lost her job and that they had planned a trip to Disneyland. “My daughter just wanted to help.”

The girl said of Ettel: “She asked me where is my permit. And I didn’t know what a permit was.”

Her family could not immediately be reached for comment.

Barbary Coast, a San Francisco cannabis dispensary, was one of the first to sever ties with Ettel and TreatWell.

“As soon as I saw it, I put the word out to staff to pull it off the shelf immediately and let her know we weren’t doing business with her any more,” Jesse Henry, Barbary’s executive director, told the Guardian.

He said he would never work with TreatWell again. “That type of behaviour just isn’t acceptable.”

An Oakland dispensary also announced it was no longer selling TreatWell, saying in a statement that even though it was a “bestselling” product, “integrity is always before profits”.

A musician who saw the video donated four tickets to Disneyland to the girl and her family.