Tuesday, June 26, 2018

My take on "Permit Patty" and mob justice...

Today's post might be a bit controversial.  Some people might decide they no longer "like" me after reading this.  That's alright with me.  I feel the need to put this out there, popular opinion be damned.  I'm grateful that I live far away from the United States, where people might feel emboldened to send me death threats and rape wishes after I express what might be an unpopular view.

Last night, I read a Washington Post article about the saga of "Permit Patty", otherwise known as Alison Ettel, and her neighbors, Erin and Jordan Austin.  The three live in an apartment building in San Francisco, near the AT&T Park.  Those of you who are familiar with San Francisco might have an idea of what the area is like.  I have not been to San Francisco myself, so I can only guess that it probably gets noisy there.  

It seems that Erin Austin had recently lost her job and money was tight.  Her eight year old daughter, Jordan, who is black, was clamoring for a trip to Disneyland.  Erin very commendably told Jordan that they would go to Disneyland if Jordan helped raised the money for the tickets.  Jordan agreed, so mother and daughter grabbed an ice filled cooler and some bottles of water and went outside to sell them to people passing the building.  Rather than simply posting a sign and waiting for customers, or walking around the neighborhood with the cooler in tow, the two were standing in one spot, loudly yelling that they had water for sale.

Meanwhile, Alison Ettel, who is white, was in her apartment trying to work.  Ettel is [ETA: as of June 27th, Ettel has resigned her post] the CEO of Treatwell Tinctures, a company that makes cannabis based products for people and pets.  She had her window open and Erin and Jordan were apparently standing under it, hawking their water.  I don't know why the window was open.  San Francisco is an expensive city.  Maybe Ettel doesn't have air conditioning or doesn't want to run it unless it's absolutely necessary.  Maybe she prefers fresh air.  Who knows?  The shouting was getting on her nerves, though, and affecting her ability to get things done.

Ettel claims she called building security about the pair, but her complaint went nowhere.  So then, Ettel claims she asked the pair to quiet down.  Erin Austin counterclaims that Ettel never asked them to be quiet; instead, she allegedly came out and started harassing them.  Austin concluded that Ettel thought she could use her "white privilege" to shut them up and "it didn't work".

Ettel has said that she was "stern", but polite.  In fairness, "stern" and "polite" mean different things to different people.  What may have seemed polite to Ettel may have come across as over-the-top rude to Austin.  Everyone has different perceptions of tone.

Things escalated when Ettel confronted the pair, and she eventually made a comment about the Austins selling water without a permit.  Austin allegedly said, "On my property.", to which Ettel corrected that it wasn't her property.  I have to agree; if the three are living in apartments, it really isn't Austin's or Ettel's property.  It's part of their community, for which they pay rent and presumably have equal access.

Apparently, Ettel then took out her phone and called the police, supposedly to find out if there was a law against what the Austins were doing.  Meanwhile, Austin also took out her phone and recorded Ettel, who at that point probably realized she was about to go viral.  Indeed, Erin Austin did post the video on Instagram with the comment "Make this bitch go viral."

Leagues of outraged people saw and shared the post and called for Ettel's head on a platter.  Ettel claims she's gotten death threats as well as many messages from people who wish violence upon her.  Companies have started disassociating with Ettel and she could very well suffer significant financial loss due to this incident.

I made the mistake of reading the comments people left on the Post article.  Many people were squarely on the side of the mother and daughter trying to sell water under Ettel's window.  Only a few people seemed to think that Ettel had a right to be annoyed about the noise.  I also noticed that many Americans don't know that cannabis products for pets is a burgeoning business.  A lot of people were commenting that Ettel's business is "illegal" because it involves cannabis.  Some were saying she should enjoy some of her own products and "chill out".

I'll admit, at first I was mostly annoyed by the ignorant comments about cannabis products.  I give my dogs cannabis products.  They are perfectly legal because they don't contain any THC.  Right now, my dogs get CBD oil made in Colorado.  It's done wonders for them.  It doesn't make them high because the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis is removed.  Moreover, I believe cannabis is legal in California, anyway.

Then I started reading the hateful comments left by people who are convinced that Ettel is a racist simply because she lost her temper.  I was shocked that so many people, none of whom were in attendance when this incident occurred, think they know what kind of a person Alison Ettel is.  A significant number of people apparently feel it's perfectly fine for Ettel to lose her livelihood and even be murdered, raped, or physically attacked.  I was also dismayed that more people didn't see this as an opportunity to teach a young child about having consideration for other people.  I think it's a lot easier to teach civility and consideration to an eight year old than an eighteen year old.

I shared the post on Facebook, along with my own comments.  I wasn't surprised when a couple of people came out against me.  In fact, I'm surprised more people haven't heaped shame on me for daring to even appear to take Ettel's side.

First thing's first.  I don't think calling the police over a situation like this is appropriate, especially given the number of tragic incidents that have happened recently involving black people and the police.  The police have better things to do than mediate what should have been a minor squabble between neighbors.  Too many promising, unarmed, young people of color have gotten killed over situations that should have been trivial.  However, in Ettel's defense, she tried to get a non police authority involved.  She called security, and they wouldn't address the problem.  When Ettel confronted Erin and Jordan Austin herself, Ms. Austin was uncooperative.  Instead, Erin Austin evidently reacted with hostility over what seems to me to be a valid complaint.

Edited to add:  According to CNN,

A seller's permit is required in San Francisco if someone plans to sell something for a temporary period or something that would be subject to sales tax at a store, according to the city's business portal.

I would imagine that applies to bottles of water.

All I know about this case is what I've read in the media.  I don't know what the environment around Ettel's apartment building is like.  I would imagine it gets noisy there because apartments are usually full of kids and kids make noise.  I don't know the parties involved.  However, Ettel has the right to peaceful enjoyment of her apartment.  She claims that the Austins were yelling for a couple of hours and it was affecting her ability to work.  One of the reasons vendors have to get permits is so that they don't disturb the peace.  It sounds like this situation occurred in a residential area, outside of people's homes, where people expect to have a sanctuary.

I used to live in apartments when I was younger.  I remember having to endure the noise from my neighbors.  Most of the time, I simply ignored it, but there were a few times I complained.  The black law student who lived next to me was very civilized and kindly quieted down when she saw that her loud music had awakened me.  The Turkish neighbors above me reacted with hostility when I pointed out that their decision to let their kids play soccer in their apartment over mine was negatively affecting my ability to study.

One time, when I lived at the University of South Carolina, I did call campus police on my neighbors.  It was a group of guys from India who were throwing a very loud party that went on until 3:00am.  They lived down the hall from me, but I could easily hear the noise from their gathering.  I had to get up to go to work three hours later and had endured their music, hallway antics, and shouting for hours.

My complaints never had a thing to do with race.  Your rights end where mine begin.  We were all paying rent and entitled to peaceful enjoyment of the premises.  Moreover, it can be very stressful and frustrating to be forced to listen to other people's noise, especially when one is trying to work, study, or sleep.

I currently live in a country where no one would bat at eye at confronting people who make excessive noise, particularly on a Sunday.  Actually, my neighborhood is pretty laid back.  My next door neighbor was vacuuming this past Sunday and no one said anything.  But in many German neighborhoods, mowing the lawn, drilling, running a vacuum cleaner, or playing loud music during "quiet hours" will get you a stern talking to from your neighbors.  If you react with belligerence, they won't hesitate to call the police.

While it can be annoying not to be able to do exactly what I want to do when I want to do it, these rules, overall, do make life a lot more pleasant.  When I pointed this out last night, a friend asked me if maybe I wasn't a little "insulated" because I live in Germany.  No, of course I'm not "insulated".  I've only been in Germany for a few years.  If anything, I'd say living in Germany gives me a more objective perspective.  I don't automatically assume a person is racist because they have a dispute with a person who isn't the same color they are.  Moreover, I certainly haven't forgotten what life in the United States is like, although I will admit that I much prefer Germany, mainly because of situations like this that get blown out of proportion and end up as front page news.

I realize that the United States is not Germany.  I don't expect the United States will ever be like Germany, and that's fine.  But I do think it's a shame that these neighbors couldn't work out this issue among themselves rather than turn it into a viral news story.  I also think it's absolutely ridiculous that people are wishing death, rape, and financial ruin on Alison Ettel simply because she dared to say something about the noise outside of her apartment.  What was she supposed to do?  Suffer in silence for as long as the mother/daughter duo wanted to hawk their wares?

Does it really serve society for Ettel to become infamous and lose her job because of her noise complaint?  Where will that lead?  Another person needing public assistance or even becoming so broke and despondent that she commits suicide?  If that happens, will people be posting about her on Facebook, asking why she never "reached out" for help?  Publicly assassinating a person's character has real life consequences.  While the idea that Ettel might one day commit suicide over this may seem extreme, I want to point out that seemingly minor situations, particularly ones that involve mob justice, sometimes turn into a downward spiral that leads to tragedy.

Based on what I've read about Ettel, I can't automatically conclude that she's a racist.  To me, she simply sounded fed up and pissed off.  She has admitted that she didn't handle this situation in the best way.  It's too bad Ms. Austin can't admit that she was wrong, too.  Sadly, I doubt that will ever happen.  Erin and Jordan Austin have even been rewarded for this incident.  Someone purchased four tickets to Disneyland for the family, so Jordan Austin can forget the trauma of having been confronted by Alison Ettel.  I do hope that somewhere along the way, she and her mother learn to have more respect for their neighbors.


  1. I'm weary of the race card being played too often. The people of my liberal ilk often think it's fine until someone plays it on them, which may happen.

    Most residences within San Francisco don't have air conditioning. In some of the suburbs people have it, and it's in businesses, but a very small percentage of homes have AC.

    The woman really should have stuck to the noise issue rather than blabbing about permits. Beyond that, one cannot make someone be quiet without killing the person. She should have asked nicely, and then decided whether or not it was worth calling authorities (if there's no daytime noise ordinance, she may have been out of luck), but even she now agrees that she went about it the wrong way.

    The unfortunate thing in my opinion is that the kid was probably rewarded [by the free trip] for inconsiderate behavior. Had Ms. Ettel conducted herself more appropriately, that never would have happened.

    It's a good idea for almost everyone to keep in mind now that almost anything one does in public may be recorded.

    1. I didn't know about the lack of AC in San Francisco. It makes sense that she had her window open, then.

      I think there are other ways both parties could have gone about solving this. Maybe Ettel could have bought some of the water. Maybe the mom and daughter could have changed locations periodically, so as not to annoy the neighbors.

      As for the permit issue, I will agree it was kind of petty. Technically, she may have been right that they needed a permit, but most Americans probably think that's excessively anal retentive. She set herself up for ridicule at that point, but it sounds to me like it came out in the heat of the moment.

      And I totally agree about the free trip to Disney. Had this girl been older, would the public be as sympathetic? At what point do we start teaching youngsters that they aren't the only people in the world?

  2. I completely agree with your points in this post.

    1. Thanks, Lauren. I feel like a lot of people have totally gone off the deep end about some things. People are hyper-reactive these days.


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