PORTLAND, Ore. — It was 3 a.m. on Tuesday and the protests were in full swing. And then, like clockwork, a few hours passed and the cleanup crews arrived.
Night after night, Portland police officers and federal agents have confronted protesters on the streets around the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse, the center of the demonstrations. Fire trucks doused a number of small blazes set by protesters: three flaming garbage cans, the awning of an H&M store and small bonfires across from the courthouse.
By 6 a.m., the streets were undergoing a makeover. As he has every weekday morning for the past several weeks, Trent Winegar cleared away the water bottles that protesters used to pelt the courthouse, broken glass and the remnants of fire extinguishers.
“Every morning, time to sweep up the mess,” Mr. Winegar said. “Today it was a lot of canned vegetables that we were picking up, beans, corn, carrots. I don’t know why.”
Nearby, a man in a bright yellow vest replaced burned and torn sheets of plywood meant to protect the courthouse. He worked next to a spray-painted message: “Send home Trumps piglets.”
On the corner of Salmon Street and Third Avenue, a man wearing thick rubber gloves brushed over graffiti with a fresh coat of gray paint. Like Sisyphus in work boots, he repaints the building’s facade every morning.
The combination of the coronavirus and the protests has left many downtown buildings shuttered. The Hilton hotel is boarded up, as is the Apple Store, Louis Vuitton, Eddie Bauer and Tiffany & Co.
A handful of pedestrians walked in the morning sunshine with their phones out, memorializing the damage of the night before.
“A year ago you would have seen street performers and Japanese tourists,” said Cezary Wojcik, a physician who spoke over the rattle and din of a power washer purging charred remnants from the sidewalk. “It’s sad.”
A few blocks from the courthouse, Kate Kelly, a retired legal assistant, carried her panting French bulldog, Grace, down a shaded sidewalk.
“Yes, you can hear the flash bangs at night. And there are the helicopters,” she said. “But I’m really proud of Portland. I’m very proud that we have the opportunity to protest, that voices can be heard.”
She added: “Democracy is a very messy thing.”