‘Permit Patty’ incident brings out the worst — and best — in people

We’ve all heard about Alison Ettel by now. You probably know this San Francisco woman as “Permit Patty” – a notorious nickname given to her by many people online and in the media, in light of the viral video of her telephoning the authorities on an 8-year-old girl who was selling bottled water, without a permit, outside of an apartment building recently.

But I wanted to hear Ettel’s side of the story. I figured there had to be more to this. I just couldn’t fathom why anyone other than Mr. Scrooge or The Grinch (and they’re fictional characters!) would make such a call. As it turns out, the girl was trying to earn money for a trip to Disneyland after her mother lost her job. Maybe Ettel didn’t know that. Or maybe she didn’t care.

In an interview with NBC’s Today show, Ettel said: “I tried to be polite, but I was stern, and I said, ‘Please, I’m trying to work, you’re screaming, you’re yelling, and people have open windows. It’s a hot day. Can you please keep it down?’”  

The girl’s mother, Erin Austin, told the Today show that Ettel never asked her or her daughter to be quiet. Austin claimed that Ettel demanded to see a permit for the bottled water sales and then started to make a call on her cell phone. Austin began to record Ettel on the phone and when Ettel noticed she was being recorded, Ettel crouches behind a wall while continuing her call. A verbal exchange ensued between Austin and Ettel, and it went like this:

Austin: You can hide all you want boo, but the whole world’s going to see you.

Ettel: Yeah, illegally selling water without a permit.

Austin: On my property.

Ettel: It’s not your property.

In an interview with HuffPost, prior to her Today show appearance, Ettel said she was only pretending to make the call reporting the girl for not having a permit. Ettel denied that her actions against the girl were racially motivated. The 8-year-old is black and Ettel is white.

Ettel, who claimed she received many threats (including some death threats) following the incident and the video going viral, said she wants to apologize the girl and her mother. It’s not been made public whether Ettel reached out to, or made contact with, the girl and her mother.

Also in her interview with HuffPost, Ettel said she acted out of frustration and voiced regret for how she handled the situation: “It was stupid. I completely regret that I handled that so poorly. It was completely stress-related, and I should have never confronted her.”

And that statement started me wondering if Ettel has a permit for the load of goods she is trying to sell the public!

If Ettel was truly annoyed only by the noise, then why didn’t she make a noise complaint with her landlord or leasing office, or with the police? Why did she try to complain about a permit, a red-tape issue? A person pulls the red-tape issue card to get someone in trouble or to teach the other person a lesson.

And, if Ettel was pretending to call, the only reason you pretend to call – in a situation such as this – is to scare a person. If you are trying to do that, you want to be seen making the call. Why, then, did Ettel crouch behind a wall while she appeared to be making the infamous call?

Sure, we all can think of a time when we’ve been frustrated or stressed out, or mishandled a situation. But none of what Ettel has said about the incident, and her actions and motivations, adds up.

It’s not clear whether the law was involved in this issue at all. There has been no information released to confirm or disprove that Ettel made contact with the San Francisco Police Department or other policing or enforcement authority about the 8-year-old not having a permit for the sale of bottled water in front of that apartment building.

Yet, it appears that justice has been served. Not too long after the video went viral, a musician named Jonathan Brannon reportedly purchased four tickets to Disneyland for the 8-year-old and her family. Brannon posted the purchase confirmation online.

As for Ettel, she stepped down as CEO from the business she founded: TreatWell Health, a medical marijuana company in the greater San Francisco area that sells products for pets. This came after several San Francisco Bay Area medical marijuana dispensaries refused to sell TreatWell’s products, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Here’s hoping the 8-year-old girl and her family enjoy their trip to Disneyland. And a tip of the hat to Brannon for his generous gift to this family. It’s a nice reminder to us all that kindness and compassion is not a thing of the past.

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