Four-year-old Tenea Anderson changes the channel of a TV inside of a hotel room she is sharing with her family since protests over the death of Daunte Wright erupted outside of her apartment building in Brooklyn Center, Minn., on Wednesday. Credit: Evan Frost | MPR News

Four-year-old Tenea Anderson loves that she gets to watch cartoons in the hotel room she has been staying in with her family over the last few days.

This story also appeared in Minnesota Public Radio News

But she keeps asking her mom, Tenean Manier, to turn the channel so she can watch the news. 

“This little girl, with how much she loves cartoons, now she requests to watch CNN,” Manier said. “Because she’s like, ‘I want to check on the house.’ ” 

Their apartment building is on Humboldt Avenue, right by the Brooklyn Center Police Department. Tenea said she’s seen a lot of people on TV standing outside her balcony with umbrellas.

She said the loud noises outside her apartment were scary.

“I’m scared because of that booming,” she said, “[I hid] under the bed.”

After Daunte Wright was shot and killed by a Brooklyn Center police officer Sunday afternoon, Manier said Tenea didn’t sleep most of the night. Nobody did.

“She got under the bed, she was crying, she didn’t know what was going on,” Manier said. “She was like, ‘Mommy what is that? I’m scared.’ ”

The area around the family’s building quickly filled with protesters, then police officers and flash-bangs. Manier said it felt like their neighborhood had suddenly become a war zone. 

Three-month-old Ermias Conley is held by his mother inside of the hotel room that was provided to them by a local church when protests erupted at the police station across the street from their house in Brooklyn Center. Credit: Evan Frost | MPR News

“I said, ‘We’re OK. I’m here to protect you,’ ” Manier said. “But I honestly didn’t know or couldn’t find the words to try to explain to my 4-year-old daughter what is going on in the world we live in today.”   

The next day, Manier knew she needed to get her family out of there. When a pastor stopped by and offered to help them get a hotel room, she jumped at the chance. 

Manier said she feels safer now, with Tenea and her 3-month-old son, Ermias, in a quiet room, miles away. The protests outside their building have continued since Sunday. She worries for her neighbors who are in that apartment building, many of them with small kids. 

And she’s weighed down by the heavy realities of this moment: Watching statewide COVID-19 case counts rise; bracing for the verdict in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin; and now confronting yet another police killing of a Black man, just months after George Floyd’s death.

“I don’t have an appetite. My anxiety’s through the roof. It’s so sad, it makes you feel angry,” Manier said. “It just brings up so many emotions that it’s too much for any human being to handle at once.”

Manier said she understands the grief and anger protesters feel. She said she herself has been treated violently by law enforcement. 

Tenean Manier with her 4-year-old daughter, Tenea Anderson, and 3-month-old son, Ermias Conley, inside the hotel room they have been staying in since protests over the killing of Daunte Wright erupted outside of their apartment earlier this week. Credit: Evan Frost | MPR News

“People are not overreacting,” she said. “I mean, as far as needing and wanting some reform in the police that protect us. Nobody’s exaggerating — especially minorities and people of color. We really are racially profiled a lot — more than people could ever know.”

Manier said she wants things with the police to change, and she agrees with many of the things the demonstrators who are gathering nightly outside her building are calling for. 

But when she went back to visit her apartment this week, she was shocked by what she saw: trash filling the parking lot; spray paint on signs; blood on the doorstep. She’s worried about tear gas seeping into rooms where her neighbors’ babies sleep.

Tenea Anderson jumps on the bed of a hotel room where she’s been staying with her family since protests erupted outside their home. Credit: Evan Frost | MPR News

Walking into their apartment, her 4-year-old begged to be carried, saying she was too scared after all the bad memories from Sunday night.  

“To the police, I would say, we want to trust in you that you will protect and serve. We really want to. We really need to,” Manier said. “To the protesters, I’d say, I understand your pain. … I feel it, too. It’s just, there’s families and small children that the protests are affecting that are not peaceful protests.” 

Manier has one more night in the hotel. She’s hoping it will give her a little breathing room and as good a night of sleep as anyone can get with a 3-month-old who’s still nursing. 

She’s not exactly sure what she’ll do after that. And she also doesn’t know how to explain what’s happening to her daughter. 

“I don’t want to scare her any more than she already is — especially regarding law enforcement — and make her feel like she can’t trust them or they’re not here to protect her, even though that’s how I feel,” Manier said. “I don’t want to put that into her little 4-year-old brain.” 

For now, she said, she might watch a little CNN to see what’s going on in their neighborhood. But when it gets to be too much, she’ll switch the channel to cartoons.

And, as she says, she’ll just try to breathe and live in the moment she’s in, safe at a hotel with her kids. 

Tenea Anderson, 4, looks out the window of the hotel she is staying in with her family Wednesday. Credit: Evan Frost | MPR News

Elizabeth Shockman

Elizabeth Shockman covers education for MPR News.