NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Short of the pandemic, one could make the case that the call for social justice was one of the most prolific moments in recent memory.
Students, parents, families, and friends joined hand-in-hand regardless of skin color. Their goal was to put an end to the racial injustice that too often was the catalyst for innocent lives being lost.
George Floyd's death in vivid and graphic detail sent shockwaves around the world including right here in Nashville.
Ray Di Pietro was there with a camera from the moment he realized what he was witnessing, was history in the making. The more you talk to Ray, the more you realize he’s made a habit of being at the right place when the world is watching.
“I feel strongly about documenting,” Di Pietro said as he reveals a photo on his phone of the World Trade Center building collapsing on 9/11.
We may not always know when history will happen, but Ray manages to never miss it when it does. The day he and others watched as thousand embarked on Nashville to march in protest of racial injustice, Ray captured the moment with every photo.
“I’m trying to take photographs where if you were in my place, what you would see and a lot of the things I take photographs of are really hard to see,” Di Pietro said.
By June, Tennessee State Troopers had sent the message that they would protect the Capitol building around the clock. The People’s Plaza, a group named for the very place they occupied, had a message of their own. If you stay, we stay.
The group spent nights across the street and days holding signs, demanding to share their vision for police reform with Governor Bill Lee. They were heard but largely ignored. Members of the group offered one more demand. They explained that as long as one of these demands were met, they would leave the plaza. Gov. Lee would either meet with the group or remove the bust of former Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest from the Capitol building.
In the days and weeks that followed, Gov. Lee refused to meet with the group. For 61 days, the group met every night to decide if they would continue. By now, many had been arrested multiple times for what troopers determined was “criminal trespassing.”
In August, Tennessee lawmakers passed two bills intended on creating stiffer penalties for vandalism and broadening the definition of assault against a law enforcement officer. The bills also broadened the scope for illegal camping on state property to include the use of chairs, tents, and food.
The plaza has been quiet ever since, but those who called for change say a difference has already been felt in Nashville.
One police chief has already been replaced by another, sparking what some members hope can be a change in the mindset from the leadership at Metro Nashville Police.
The bust of confederate Nathan Bedford Forrest could soon leave the Capitol after a vote was approved to move the bust to a nearby museum.
Finally, Rep. Barbara Cooper of Memphis filed a bill to change the name of Legislative Plaza to Ida B. Wells-Barnett Plaza. A nod to the civil rights icon, who members of the People’s Plaza paid tribute to months earlier with a sign that read Ida B. Wells Plaza.
It's a history we can now say we saw for ourselves and it's history some hope we never forget.