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The Final Cut | Kaiser Health News

Antoine Dow cuts a buyer’s hair as others wait in line at his barbershop within the Druid Heights neighborhood of West Baltimore.

BALTIMORE — The barber had with him his instruments of commerce: a black leather-based smock, a razor, clippers, scissors and tufts of black locks he had collected from the ground of his store.

He would use them to attempt to cowl the bullet gap that tore by his consumer’s head.

Antoine Dow owns a barbershop within the Druid Heights neighborhood of West Baltimore and has typically been referred to as upon to offer purchasers who’ve been gunned down with their ultimate haircut. It’s a ritual that he says helps convey some dignity to the younger black males whose lives are disproportionately affected by gun violence, lots of whom Dow knew and serviced whereas they have been nonetheless alive.

“When I walked into the room and saw his body, I didn’t recognize him because the trauma to the skull was so bad,” Dow mentioned of Deontae Taylor, 20, a younger man who was killed final fall. “The entry wound was a hole and the exit wound was sewed up in the back like a football,” he mentioned.

After he completed, he referred to as Taylor’s mom. “I did the best I could do.”

Antoine Dow has been slicing hair for 24 years. Dow, who owns a barbershop in West Baltimore, provides lots of his purchasers their final haircut at native funeral houses, after shedding them to gun violence.

The decline in gun deaths in some main cities throughout the nation has made headlines, however in locations like Baltimore, the numbers stay excessive. There have been 348 homicides in Baltimore final 12 months, up greater than 12% from the 12 months earlier than, and solely 5 fewer than the file set in 1993. Firearms have been concerned in 312 of the 348 killings, in accordance with an evaluation of the most recent numbers within the Baltimore Police Department Crime Stats Open Data database by Kaiser Health News.

Dow has been slicing hair for 24 years. He began when he was 19, giving haircuts to mates in his father’s basement. In 2001, at age 27, he discovered a small store with an affordable lease that had solely sufficient room for one barber. He had the store transformed and has been open ever since. On Saturdays, he might be discovered slicing hair for as many as 70-odd purchasers, his barber chair positioned on the store entrance, the place he can greet every particular person as they enter.

On Saturdays, the busiest day at Antoine Dow’s barbershop within the Druid Heights neighborhood of West Baltimore, Dow might be discovered slicing hair from 6:30 a.m. to as late as 9 p.m., slicing the hair of roughly 72 purchasers in a single day.(Nate Palmer for KHN)

Tufts of hair lay on the toes of assistant barber Quant’e Boulware inside Antoine Dow’s barbershop within the Druid Heights neighborhood of West Baltimore. Dow has collected and included such hair samples in some postmortem haircuts for his purchasers.(Nate Palmer for KHN)

“I always wanted my own barbershop. I pretty much knew what I wanted to do, because I enjoyed it, and people would pay me for it,” he mentioned.

The difficulty of gun violence has adopted Dow for years. In 2000, at a barbershop on the nook of Lafayette and Division streets in West Baltimore the place he labored, Dow was shot in the leg after he tried to intervene in an argument between a consumer and one other man. His consumer, Howard Robinson, 35, was shot within the again and died later that day.

Typically, funeral houses costume the our bodies of the deceased and lower their hair, if obligatory. But typically a well-liked barber is introduced in.

Dow was 26 when he carried out his first haircut for a deceased consumer. In that case, it was an older man who had died of pure causes, circumstances that Dow mentioned are a lot simpler to handle than a capturing sufferer. He has continued to tackle the troublesome process of offering haircuts for purchasers who’ve been killed, for a simple motive, as he sees it — “because I cut their hair while they were alive.”

And as his enterprise has expanded, Dow has employed different barbers who’ve additionally realized the commerce of autopsy hair slicing.

Quant’e Boulware, 24, has labored for Dow the previous 4 years and has lower the hair of two clients not alive. One was a 2-year-old baby who died in a automobile crash — his godson. “I rather me cut his hair than somebody else,” he mentioned softly.

Quant’e Boulware combs the hair of Davonte Robinson earlier than slicing his hair.

When purchasers go away Dow’s store, he mentioned he tells them to “please be safe,” however he is aware of that may be arduous in a metropolis like Baltimore. He estimates that as many as eight of his purchasers have been murdered within the final 12 months alone.

Dontae Breeden, one in every of Dow’s youthful purchasers, mentioned that he and his friends typically really feel invisible in a metropolis the place violence is so widespread and that some younger males flip to gun violence out of desperation. “People just want to be known for something,” mentioned Breeden, 22. “They just want recognition.”

Rashad Jones has been a consumer of Dow’s for 3 years. In March 2019, he was shot at a bus cease on East Northern Parkway after work. Not solely has Jones misplaced two of his finest mates to gun violence this 12 months, however in 2013 his brother was shot and paralyzed from the waist down at age 25.

The barbershop is among the few locations in West Baltimore the place Jones, 29, mentioned he feels protected and Dow has tried to offer that consolation to his purchasers, each in life and in dying.

He talks to his purchasers whereas slicing their hair, even those that have handed away, just like the younger man who had been shot within the head.

“I was talking to him while I was cutting his hair, like I do a lot of my deceased clients,” mentioned Dow. “I just said, you know, ‘I hope you rest well.’”

Antoine Dow (heart) stands outdoors his West Baltimore barbershop with one in every of his assistant barbers, Quant’e Boulware (left), and Dow’s daughter, Akerah Dow, who runs a hair salon throughout the road from her father’s barbershop.

KHN reporter Victoria Knight contributed to this text.

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