Michigan Pulls License of Barber Flouting Whitmer’s Lockdown

May 13, 2020 Updated: May 13, 2020

A 77-year-old Michigan barbershop owner has had his license suspended, according to legal documents (pdf) claiming that by cutting hair in violation of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s “non-essential” business shutdown, the elderly barber “has the potential to spread COVID-19 around the state.”

Karl Manke, who runs Karl Manke Main St. Barber & Beauty Shop in Owosso, a small town between Lansing and Flint, has had both his license and that of his business “summarily suspended,” according to a May 12 order signed by Debra Gagrialdi, director of the Bureau of Professional Licensing.

The suspension order claims the situation at the Owosso barber required “emergency action” to protect “the public health, safety or welfare.”

Manke’s lawyer, David Kallman, told The Detroit News that under a separate Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) order, his client also faces “$1,000 and 1 year in jail per haircut.”

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Barber Karl Manke cuts a client’s hair at his barber shop in Owosso, Mich., on May 12, 2020. (Jeff Kowalsky/AFP/Getty Images)

Manke, who opened his shop on May 4, told ABC12 he is determined to keep working regardless of Whitmer’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order for “non-essential” businesses like his to remain closed.

“I’m 77,” he said. “What, are they going to give me? Life? I’ve got one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel. I could care less.”

Manke told supporters who gathered outside his shop on Monday that he “cannot believe the support that I’ve got.”

“It’s overwhelming,” he said, explaining he doesn’t want government help, only to continue working in his barbershop.

“I’ve never looked for handouts. I don’t even know what they are. I had somebody call me and say, ‘Well, why don’t you get on food stamps?’ I don’t want to get on food stamps. I want to work,” he said.

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People wait in line to have their hair cut in front of the shop of Barber Karl Manke, in Owosso, Mich., on May 12, 2020. (Jeff Kowalsky/AFP/Getty Images)

Whitmer, meanwhile, has repeatedly asserted the necessity of maintaining the shutdowns, even as protests and civil disobedience against her orders mount.

“These executive orders are not a suggestion. They’re not optional. They’re not helpful hints,” she said at a briefing on May 11.

Whitmer, a Democrat, said the orders prohibiting barbers from operating are there to prevent a second wave of COVID-19, the disease caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, which emerged from China last year.

“The devastation from a second wave could dwarf what we’ve already endured together,” Whitmer said, ABC12 reported.

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Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addresses the state during a speech in Lansing, Mich., on April 13, 2020. (Michigan Office of the Governor via AP, Pool)

Since reopening his barbershop on May 4, Manke has attracted customers from across the state, the Michigan DHHS said in its order, noting that photos published in news reports show customers inside not wearing masks, leading the agency to conclude that Manke’s business “has the potential to spread COVID-19 around the state by bringing people from different households in close proximity to one another.”

The DHHS director, in issuing an Imminent Danger and Abatement Order on May 8, ordered Manke to shut down his barbershop immediately on grounds that “the conditions and practices outlined above could reasonably be expected to cause death, disease, or serious physical harm.”

Further, the DHHS order claims “the conditions at Karl Manke’s Barbershop pose an imminent danger to the health or lives of individuals in this state” and that “Karl Manke’s Barbershop is creating a nuisance, unsanitary condition, and may potentially cause illness.”

An affidavit in the case claims Manke was operating his barbershop in violation of Whitmer’s executive order, which mandated the closure of businesses offering “non-essential personal care services, including hair and similar personal care services, due to the COVID-19 emergency.”

The formal complaint against Manke cites multiple Occupation Code violations, including “act of gross negligence in practicing an occupation,” “willfully violating the health and safety rules of any political subdivision,” noting that “the Code permits the summary suspension of a license to practice an occupation where an imminent threat to the public health, safety, and welfare exists.”

Manke told ABC12 he has done everything he can, short of shutting down, to prevent the spread of the deadly bug.

“I’m following all the guidelines here,” Manke said. “I’ve got the mask on, the sterilizer, hand sanitizer, and trying to distance as best we can here.”

“As long as I have two hands and I’m capable of cutting hair, that’s my occupation,” he added. “That’s what I do. That’s what I’m going to continue to do.”

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