MICHIGAN — Karl Manke’s barber shop in Owosso, Michigan, is seeing a little more business than usual.
Around 11 a.m. Monday, more than 20 customers formed a single-file line from the shop’s entryway to the barber’s chair. When one customer was done getting their hair cut, they would stand and another person would step forward.
The only problem with Manke’s flowing stream of customers? It’s illegal.
Manke, 77, is one of more than a few Michigan small business owners disregarding a statewide executive order by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer mandating that nonessential businesses close during the ongoing pandemic caused by the new coronavirus.
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The order, which has been extended multiple times —most recently through May 28 — is meant to prevent the spread of the virus. Violation of the order is punishable by jail time, fines and licensing sanctions.
But not everyone agrees the order should still be in place. The order has been opposed by many — primarily, Republican residents and legislators who cite the order’s negative impact on small businesses as cause for its removal.
Manke said he has never seen “such oppression” from a government. The barber said that after two weeks of “sitting around without a penny” from unemployment, he needed to get back to work. When he finally did receive an unemployment check, the need to work remained the same.
“I hadn’t gotten anything (from unemployment),” Manke, adorned in a white mask, said at his shop. “Now, I’ve got $167 (from unemployment) so far. I mean, what am I going to do? I can’t even pay for my lights with that.”
The violation of the governor’s executive order has not gone unnoticed by authorities. Even so, the issue isn’t as open and shut as it may seem.
Owosso police have cited Manke with misdemeanor violations of the governor’s executive order. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel on Monday filed a motion in Shiawassee County Circuit Court seeking to immediately shut down the barber shop for violating the executive order. A county circuit court judge denied the motion.
“The court wanted to provide Mr. Manke with an opportunity for a hearing on the request for an injunction, despite the clear public health dangers that continued operation of his business creates,” said Ryan Jarvi, a spokesperson with Nessel’s office. “The attorney general’s court action, filed on behalf of MDHHS, seeks to enforce the MDHHS Director’s Public Health Order that deemed Mr. Manke’s business an imminent danger to public health in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and directs him to immediately cease operations at his barbershop. The State is seeking to schedule a hearing as soon as possible.”
Manke said that until police walk him out in handcuffs, he plans to remain open. And he isn’t alone in that view.
In Livingston County, a Brighton-area gym reopened in violation of the order, according to the Livingston Daily and Argus.
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In southeast Michigan, the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office said it has seen an uptick in social distancing complaints and has continued to enforce the rule when responding. But not all entities are enforcing the rule.
The Shiawassee County Sheriff’s Office, located in Owosso’s neighboring city of Corunna, issued a statement Monday that it will no longer put resources toward enforcement of the governor’s orders.
“Our office cannot and will not divert our primary resources and effort towards enforcement of the Governor Whitmer’s executive orders,” the department said in a statement.
The nearby city of Perry issued a statement indicating it would continue not having strict enforcement of the governor’s order.
A report by WWMT in April said that despite more than 80 complaints to the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Department regarding businesses operating in violation of the order, no citations had been issued.
So it remains unclear about what is to be done about businesses disobeying the order when local police refuse to enforce it.
Nessel recently said enforcement of the order would be handled by local police jurisdictions, so the lack of enforcement by some departments is concerning, the office commented.
“We would remind them that a successful COVID-19 response relies on cooperation at all levels,” Jarvi said. “While we are all anxious for a court to provide additional clarity, taking the position that the Governor’s executive orders are presumptively invalid — a position no court has agreed with — is wrong and places the public health and rule of law in jeopardy. The governor’s orders are presumptively valid until and unless ruled invalid by a court — not the other way around.
“Further, the attorney general issued a letter of guidance to law enforcement last week affirming the enforceability of Executive Orders 69 and 70. Thus, it’s not that these local law enforcement agencies can’t enforce the orders, they simply don’t want to,” Jarvi added.
Manke’s pushback against the executive order has drawn worldwide attention. On Monday, he received calls from international outlets such as TRT World, a Turkish news channel. He’s been the focus of stories by national outlets. He was featured on “Fox & Friends,” and on Monday did a live interview with the conservative political analyst Glenn Beck.
Of those in his shop, the makeup is similarly diverse. One person came from Westland, Michigan, more than an hour and a half away; another was from Los Angeles.
Lines formed outside the shop of people wearing Make America Great Again hats and holding “Trump” signs. Supporters driving by the shop honked their horns.
Manke gets emotional talking about the support. He draws similarities between those supporting him and patriots of America’s past, who similarily were seen as lawbreakers.
“It’s American. Americans have that kind of heart,” Manke said, teary-eyed. “We do it for one another. We’ve always had a rough, tough, rebellious frontier. But we have a heart for one another, and I appreciate all of this.”