The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

An 8-year-old tried selling water for a trip to Disneyland. A white woman threatened to call police.

A video of a woman appearing to call the police on an eight-year-old girl selling water in San Francisco went viral on June 23. (Video: @_ethiopiangold/Twitter)

Things got tight after Erin Austin lost her job, so she struck a deal with her 8-year-old daughter, who had been eagerly anticipating a trip to Disneyland: The family could still make the voyage to the Magic Kingdom if Jordan could help raise money, Austin told USA Today.

So the young entrepreneur grabbed a white cooler, some ice and a few bottles of water, taking advantage of Friday’s foot traffic outside her SoMa apartment and the San Francisco sun to make a few quick bucks.

“Ice-cold water, $2,” she yelled, hawking hydration to passersby near AT&T Park.

Alison Ettel told the San Francisco Chronicle that the girl and her mother had been making noise for several hours. Sitting inside her home trying to work, Ettel said, she lost her temper.

Ettel tried to get the building’s security staff to do something, then decided to take matters into her own hands. She got into an argument with Austin, and the final moments of that squabble have now reverberated around the world.

“This woman don’t want to let a little girl sell some water; she be calling police on an 8-year-old little girl,” Austin said off-camera as she followed Ettel, who held her phone up to her ear. “You can hide all you want; the whole world gonna see you, boo.”

“Yeah, and illegally selling water without a permit?” Ettel shot back.

“On my property,” Austin retorted.

“It’s not your property.”

Austin posted the video on Instagram, telling the world to “make this b—- go viral” and adding, “An 8 year old selling water in front of her apartment building where she’s lived her whole life is NOT a reason to call the Police.”

And 43,000 likes later, irritated neighbor Ettel has morphed into the hashtag known as #PermitPatty, the latest Disney (-trip spoiling) villain.

#PermitPatty spent the weekend trending on Twitter, joining reluctant Photoshop model #BBQBecky (of black-cookout-spoiling fame) and hurting the business prospects of Ettel, the CEO of a company that sells cannabis pet products.

Ettel did not respond to requests for comment.

She told USA Today that she only pretended to call the police on the girl. But that didn’t stop critics from lumping her in with the dozens of white people who have sicced the police on people of color for innocuous activities.

On May 12, for example, members of a black sorority were questioned by a state trooper while picking up litter on a Pennsylvania highway. Earlier that month, a parent called police on two Native American students who arrived late to a college tour. And a Yale University student was interrogated by police after her dorm neighbor called police because she was napping in a common area.

The incidents have given rise to the hashtags #LivingWhileBlack and #LivingWhileBrown and often end with a black or brown person being interrogated by police or being carted off in handcuffs. In the worst cases, the incidents have escalated to body slams or even gunshots.

The nation is embroiled in a debate about the disparate treatment of black people after several incidents of apparent “overpolicing” across the U.S. (Video: Taylor Turner/The Washington Post)

Starbucks shut down 8,000 U.S. stores for an afternoon last month for racial-bias training after a manager at a Philadelphia store called police on two black men who were waiting for a friend before ordering.

Phillip Atiba Goff, president of the Center for Policing Equity, a nonprofit that promotes police transparency and accountability, told The Washington Post in May that many people see the police as the enforcers of unwritten social rules — rules that can be steeped in discriminatory thinking.

“The issue is that, for many folks, law enforcement has been seen as their own racism valet,” Goff said.

“We talk about not just crime, we talk about disorder — anything that makes folks feel uncomfortable or says that the social norms that we’ve all agreed to are being violated,” he said. “And the problem is that black skin frequently violates the social order.”

Following the latest #LivingWhileBlack controversy, fortunes have diverged for Ettel and the 8-year-old she’s accused of bullying.

Ettel has built up a virtual wall around her social media life. She told media outlets that she has received death threats and sexually violent messages, and that people have tried to get into her building to confront her.

“All kinds of threats,” she said on NBC’s “Today” show while crying Monday morning. “Horrible, horrible images, and death threats.”

She defended her actions, saying on the show that she is not the social media villain she has been made out to be.

“I had tried to be polite, but I was stern,” she said. “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.’ ”

But Austin said Ettel was much more confrontational.

“She never asked us to be quiet. She just came out and directly demanded to see a permit to sell water from an 8-year-old,” Austin told the show. “That woman thought she could use her white privilege, and it didn’t work.”   

The company Ettel runs sells cannabis products for pets, and partners were severing ties with her.

“As of today, Magnolia will no longer be carrying Treatwell Tinctures,” the Magnolia Oakland dispensary said in a statement on Instagram. “After seeing this video of their CEO, calling the police on an 8 year old entrepreneur selling water on a hot day, we decided without hesitation that we could no longer patronize her company.”

A message from our CEO Kristina Garcia. To see our code of conduct, please visit:

Posted by Women Grow on Sunday, June 24, 2018

Meanwhile, Jordan can retire from the cold-water business: She’s going to Disneyland after all.

A man who saw the social media uproar bought the girl four tickets, enough for her whole family to go.

Read more:

‘You know why the lady called the police’: Black people face 911 calls for innocuous acts

A black Yale student fell asleep in her dorm’s common room. A white student called police.

‘I was just reading a book’: Canadian cops called on black man reading C.S. Lewis in his car