Gino Fiebelkorn has taken to sleeping during the day, when the crowd outside his apartment is mostly camera crews and reporters. But by evening, he starts prepping for another night "in a war zone."
He tapes up the back door frame of his garden-level apartment on Humboldt Avenue in Brooklyn Center — an attempt to keep out clouds of tear gas that have filled his neighborhood since Sunday night. And then he stations himself at the apartment building's back door, prepared to pull in injured protesters and ward off troublemakers.
"It's absolutely terrorizing," he said as he wiped away welling tears. "I moved across from a police station because I thought it'd be safe."
Fiebelkorn lives in Sterling Square Apartments, which is a group of four buildings with about 50 apartments directly across from the Brooklyn Center Police Department. The block has been ground zero for mass demonstrations since Sunday, when 20-year-old Daunte Wright was shot and killed by Brooklyn Center police officer Kimberly Potter during a traffic stop. Potter, who has since resigned from the Police Department, was charged Wednesday with second-degree manslaughter.
Law enforcement officers have clashed with the protesters, using tear gas, flash-bang grenades and projectiles to clear the crowds. For those living in the apartments nearby, that has meant finding bright green marking rounds and gas canisters landing on their balconies. It has meant sleepless nights of trying to watch through windows while fearing a projectile will fly through the glass. And even for those residents who did try going to bed, the coughing caused by the tear gas was often enough to keep them awake.
"My place smells like smoke and there are times when it's hard to breathe," said Jamiya Crayton, 24. She's been stuffing wet towels around her windows, but it's not enough, she said.
Then there's the noise. The flash-bang grenades are piercing. So is the crowd. People yell, and military vehicles rumble across the yard right under Crayton's balcony, leaving deep tracks in the mud.
Crayton's sisters, 11-year-old twins, are both on the autism spectrum and sensitive to loud sounds. They spent most of Tuesday night pacing the apartment, hands over their ears. On Wednesday afternoon, Crayton got a phone call from her sister Janavia's social worker at school, who said Janavia was agitated, repeating over and over again that her house was blowing up.
"Explaining to them is so hard," Crayton said. "I just keep having to say to them that no one is trying to hurt us."
She's also been trying to convince her 3-year-old daughter, Samaya.
"She's terrified of police," Crayton said. "She doesn't want to be at home."
On Wednesday afternoon, staff from Monarch Investment and Management Group — the company that has owned Sterling Square Apartments since February — met with residents to let them know they could seek out a hotel voucher at the Brooklyn Center Community Center.
"The safety of our residents is paramount," said Brian Hamilton, regional manager for Monarch. Many of the residents in the buildings have Section 8 vouchers, he said.
By Wednesday afternoon, the only damage to the property was a single broken window, an anti-police message spray-painted on a sign and the tire tracks on the lawn.
"We're grateful for that and for the residents who themselves have done a great job of cleaning up," Hamilton said.
Duane Westphal, who lives in a home next door to the Police Department, spent Wednesday picking up rubber bullets strewn across his front yard. He also noticed that several landscaping bricks and pavers had been taken.
"I was raised in the '60s and remember the riots then, but I've never experienced anything like this," he said. He went to a friend's home on Tuesday and Wednesday nights to escape the chaos and get some sleep.
"I just didn't know what was going to transpire, but I knew it wasn't going to be good," he said.
Veronica Mckinney spent Tuesday night at her mother's house and plans to continue to find places to stay this week.
Still, she's had to talk to her two children, 12 and 13, about the reason people are gathering on their street. She's talked about Wright's death, and George Floyd's too.
"I can't keep sugar coating it," said Mckinney, who is Black. "I've personally never had a bad experience with police but this is happening in front of my kids and we can't ignore it."
Crayton said despite the fear of demonstrations turning into something ugly after dark, she's hopeful to see so many people gathering to call for change.
"I have a lot of respect for the peaceful people out there," she said. "And all I can say is that all of this has to — needs to — change."
Fiebelkorn agreed. He's been hanging a large American flag on his patio, hoping it can be a symbol of peace and unity, even through the haze of tear gas that often makes it hard to see across the apartment parking lot.
"This is a tragedy all the way around," he said. "And here I am worried about my home and my life. That shouldn't be happening."
Staff writer Liz Sawyer contributed to this report
Mara Klecker • 612-673-4440