LANSING, MI – Barbers and protesters conducted “Operation Haircut” on the lawn and steps of the state Capitol with few confrontations or flare-ups Wednesday.
The demonstration, organized by the Michigan Conservative Coalition, featured barbers and stylists offering free haircuts in defiance of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive orders aiming to slow the spread of COVID-19. The emergency orders closed barbershops, salons and other businesses.
The only escalation Wednesday came when a pair of Michigan Militia protesters, one with a rifle, started shouting at Michigan State Police officers for issuing $1,000 citations to barbers. The violations were for “disorderly conduct,” state police clarified on social media.
The officers were issuing a fine to Angela Regas, a barber from Caledonia, as well as the others working Wednesday. No arrests or physical altercations occurred.
Regas helped deescalate the situation, telling the two men that she could handle the situation in court herself.
“I just took the citation,” she said. “I just took it and I’ll fight it. I’m not worried, and I have a lot of friends and a lot of supporters here today that will support me no matter what happens today.”
The conservative organizers of the protest pledged to cover barbers’ $1,000 fines through a GoFundMe fundraiser in a speech to the crowd. The relative calm of the Wednesday protest contrasted with previous demonstrations against Whitmer’s outbreak response. There was a scuffle between protesters and a man displaying a doll with a noose around its neck last week, and armed protesters entered the Capitol and demanded to be let into House chambers in late April.
Wednesday’s attendees did express anger at Whitmer and her executive orders keeping small business owners from operating. Karl Manke, the Owosso barber who inspired Operation Haircut after continuing to operate his business despite Michigan suspending his license last week, was among the demonstrators.
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Manke, who said Whitmer’s continued extension of the executive orders “brought him to his knees,” financially, and compared the situation to Jews in Nazi Germany being “placed into cattle cars.”
“These older people in Germany were told in reels and movies and types of propaganda coming out at the time, that they could get into these cattle cars, and would be taken to these new homes,” he said. “They willingly got into those cattle cars. I will not be placed into a cattle car.”
There have been 53,009 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Michigan, as well as 5,060 deaths, state health officials said Wednesday. Shiawassee County, where Manke operates his business, has seen 235 cases and 21 deaths.
Attorney General Dana Nessel issued a statement following the suspension of Manke’s license, saying his actions put people at risk of spreading the virus.
“Anytime you have a barber or other professional providing services to numerous citizens in close proximity to each other and those citizens are then returning to their various residences, there is a risk of contracting and spreading the virus,” Nessel said. “It is paramount that we take action to protect the public and do our part to help save lives.”
Business owners like Sara Yacks, who runs Hillsdale massage parlor Elbows of Love, said she is losing $2,000 a month and struggles to cover basic needs for her children, who traveled with her to the protest.
“That’s not (for) the extras. That’s not for taking my kids out to eat,” she said, her voice occasionally breaking with emotion. “Not having that income… while I’m grateful for the stimulus check that carried me through and I don’t have to worry about getting evicted, the bills didn’t stop.”
Whitmer’s administration should trust barbers, salons and massage parlors to operate safely, Yacks said.
“As a health care provider before this ever happened, I wash my hands before and after every client,” she said. “I sanitize my equipment before every client. She has no right to take my career (away).”
It is “unlikely” barbers, salons and personal care services would reopen when the stay-home order expires on May 28, Whitmer said Tuesday.
“It hurts me to say it because I would love to go to get my hair done, too,” Whitmer said. “But the fact of the matter is, the nature of that personal service is such that it is intimate, it is close, you can’t social distance and get your hair cut. That’s why it is important that we have all the protocols in place. My hope is that we get into phase four and then phase five and we are able to do those things. But at this juncture, it’s too early to say precisely when we will get there. We’re going to get there.”
State Sen. Kevin Daley, R-Lapeer, had his hair trimmed by Holly barber Suzanne Dodoro. He not only needed one, he joked, but wanted to support small businesses.
“We need to support the people making a living,” he said. “We need to save life, but we need to save livelihood, too.”
Only a handful of counter-protesters showed up, including members of the New Black Panther Nation. While everyone wants businesses to open, said spokesman Malik Shabazz, it must be done slowly and on the basis of science.
“Let’s open the economy slowly, safely, cautiously and let science lead us,” he said. “Because money does not come before lives.”
Shabazz and his group, as well as conservative protesters wearing MAGA hats, calmly argued issues with the stay-home order.
In addition to washing hands regularly and not touching your face, officials recommend practicing social distancing, assuming anyone may be carrying the virus.
Health officials say you should be staying at least 6 feet away from others and working from home, if possible.
Use disinfecting wipes or disinfecting spray cleaners on frequently-touched surfaces in your home (door handles, faucets, countertops) and carry hand sanitizer with you when you go into places like stores.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has also issued an executive order requiring people to wear face coverings over their mouth and nose while inside enclosed, public spaces.
Read all of MLive’s coverage on the coronavirus at mlive.com/coronavirus.
Additional information is available at Michigan.gov/Coronavirus and CDC.gov/Coronavirus.
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