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Barbers Cut Hair On The Michigan Capitol Lawn To Protest Anti-Coronavirus Shutdown

Barbers and hairstylists gave protesters a trim in a demonstration against Michigan's stay-at-home orders at the Capitol in Lansing on Wednesday.
Abigail Censky
Barbers and hairstylists gave protesters a trim in a demonstration against Michigan's stay-at-home orders at the Capitol in Lansing on Wednesday.

A protest in Lansing, Mich., against stay-at-home orders focused on what has become a rallying cry for such demonstrations — haircuts.

The Capitol lawn was turned into a barber shop. At least a dozen barbers and stylists, highlighting the damage to their shuttered businesses, set up card tables and generators to power the clippers, and people lined up.

There were no temperature checks, few people wearing masks, and little to no social distancing. Seven hairdressers were ticketed by Michigan State Police for disorderly conduct for refusing to stop.

Sreeny Cherukuri hadn't gotten his haircut in three months. He said he came out to show his support for small businesses. He said he thinks salons and barber shops are in the spotlight because everyone can relate to them.

"It's one of the places you still have a relationship with the provider," he said. "I don't really know the name of the guy who works at the gas station, but I do know the names of the ladies who cut my hair, so I think that's why it's a touch point."

For protesters across the country, a haircut is a political statement.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, made a statement recently by getting his first pandemic haircut from a hairdresser who was jailed for defying the state's order to close her salon.

A barber in New York drew the disapproval of state officials, after continuing to give haircuts against orders. The barber later tested positive for the coronavirus.

Wednesday's protest was organized by the Michigan Conservative Coalition, the same group that organized Operation Gridlock in Lansing in April.

This protest was billed as Operation Haircut in support of 77-year-old-barber Karl Manke whose license has been revoked and is now in a court battle with the state after opening up his business during the stay-at-home order.

But some customers and business owners aren't so eager to return to salons and barber shops, even those that will open under strict safety protocols.

Nefertiti Harris, owns Textures by Nefertiti, a salon that caters to Detroit's black community which has been particularly hard-hit by COVID-19.

She said she finds it hard to believe that people are protesting to get their hair cut and to open salons and barbers back up.

"Are they really chomping at the bit to get their hair cut? I mean, are those protests really about that? I question that. I don't even think it's about a haircut at all. ... When you have lost so many loved ones to this disease you think twice," said Harris.

The freedom to make that decision depends on where you live. In states like Missouri and Arkansas, barbers and salons have sprung back to life.

In others, like Michigan, even as remote parts of the state reopen, salons and barbers remain closed, and according to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer are unlikely to reopen even after the stay-at-home order has been lifted.

Copyright 2020 WKAR Public Media

Abigail Censky is the Politics & Government reporter at WKAR. She started in December 2018.