A local car dealership is trying to make amends after a customer found an anti-Asian message written on a sanitation bottle inside the store.
Larry Katz went to the Gainesville Nissan dealership Saturday to get his airbags changed when he found a clear hand sanitizer bottle with a racist slur for the COVID-19 virus written across it in black ink, according to a photo posted on Facebook.
While Katz waited, he found the bottle sitting on a salesman’s desk. In the post, he wrote he confronted the receptionist and a salesperson before leaving.
Katz, who is Jewish, said standing up for any marginalized group was important to him.
“We really have to fight this as best we can,” he said.
Clovis Watson, sales manager at Gainesville Nissan, said the hateful message does not reflect the store’s core values. Watson said no employees sit at the sales desk where the bottle was found. The desk is empty and the computer doesn’t work.
Watson called the incident a “sick joke,” and said he asked his staff if anyone saw the person who left the sanitizer. No one did, and he doesn’t believe the message was written by one of his employees.
Watson said if he finds out the bottle was put out by an employee, that person will be fired.
“There's no racists here,” he said. “I don’t tolerate that.”
Documentation of Asian hate is on the rise across the nation. Reported hate crimes against Asians in the largest U.S. cities were up 145% in 2020 compared to the previous year, according to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. This is seen in incidents of unprovoked acts of violence toward Asians, such as shoving, beating and killing. Asian families across the country have been associated with the “China Virus,” a slur used by former President Donald Trump in reference to the COVID-19 virus.
In Gainesville, students and residents protested this rise in anti-Asian hate. More than 200 people attended a march at Depot Park March 27 and about 100 rallied against the recent violence at four city street corners the week before.
Jeannette Peters, a friend of Katz, recalled how Katz felt upon discovering the hateful message.
“His twin daughters are Chinese, and this experience has really upset him and his wife,” Peters wrote in a Facebook direct message.
Watson, whose father is Alachua County Sheriff Clovis Watson Jr., said he was no stranger to racism growing up in Alachua County.
He said as a Black man, he sympathizes with the Asian American community.
“A lot of people are going through a lot of pain right now,” he said.
Around 5 p.m. Saturday, Katz posted an update on Facebook and wrote that he spoke with Watson, and Katz’s family will meet with Watson next week in an effort to make amends.
“I felt that this was a very heartfelt apology and he wants to make it right,” he wrote in a Facebook direct message.
Contact Jack Prator at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jack_prator.
Jack is a UF journalism sophomore covering the Gainesville City Commission. If he's not in a hammock at the plaza he is probably watching the Queen's Gambit for the fifth time.