Forty years after 12-year-old Santos Rodriguez was shot in the head while handcuffed in a squad car by a Dallas police officer, Mayor Mike Rawlings recognized the necessity to address Dallas’ history of racism. In his closing remarks of the first panel discussion in the four-part series — addressing race, Rawlings may have given the Rodriguez family the justice they have been waiting for.
“I will tell you this. I have got a lot of questions about apologizing for the death of Santos Rodriguez. To the mother Bessie, I don’t have any clue why this city hasn’t apologized for that. There is no excuse for that. On behalf of the citizens of Dallas, on behalf of the Dallas city council and on behalf of the Dallas police department, we wholeheartedly apologize,” he said.
Rawlings’ statement marked the first formal apology made to the Rodriguez family on behalf of the city of Dallas since Santos’ death in 1973. Director of SMU’s Embrey Human Rights Program Rick Halperin said the apology is a major event in the history of Dallas and race relations.
“Recognizing past historical injustices, and then apologizing for them, is a major step in the process of reconciliation and healing. The mayor’s apology now allows the city to move forward in a healthier way in its discussions about the status of race relations in Dallas,” he said.
In July of 1973, Santos Rodriguez and his 13-year-old brother David were accused of stealing $8 in change from a vending machine in the Little Mexico area of Dallas. Patrolman Roy Arnold and partner Darrell Cain arrested the boys in the middle of the night and drove them back to the scene of the crime. Cain, who later testified that he emptied the bullets from his service weapon, put his gun to Santos’s head and played a game resembling Russian roulette in an effort to coerce a confession. When Santos refused to talk, Cain pulled the trigger shooting Santos in the head.
Dallas Police Lt. Anthony Williams grew up in South Dallas and remembers the death of Santos Rodriguez. Williams referred to the mayor’s actions as “courageous” and noted that several mayors have come and gone since the shooting and have failed to give an apology.
“It was 40 years in the making and I think it was a big step forward,” Williams said. “I applaud the mayor, I applaud his sincerity and I applaud his interest in the topic in terms of having an open discussion about that. And I can only hope and pray that he didn’t even have a second thought about it because he knew it was the right thing to do.”
According to Halperin, the apology came as a shock to the Rodriguez family. Bessie Rodriguez, Santos’ mother was not present for the event but when she got the call informing her of the apology she was so shocked she had to sit down to keep from falling over he said.
A jury in Austin convicted Cain of murder with malice in 1973. He was sentenced to five years in prison and served only about half that sentence before being paroled.
As the “Conversations about Race” series continues Halperin encourages people to remain committed to the human rights cause, mainly remembering that there is no such thing as a lesser person. Halperin said that although the apology was long overdue it “should serve as a clear reminder that the pursuit of justice is frequently a long and very frustrating process…but that commitment to principle in defense and advocacy of human rights and human dignity is worth the struggle.”
The “Conversations about Race” series is the introduction to the “Dallas Faces Race: Face Race 2014 National Conference” that will be held Nov. 13-15, 2014. The date for the second panel discussion in the “Conversations about Race” series has yet to be released. This panel will address the impact of race on youth. The event is open to the public but seating will be limited so registration is required. For updates on the date of the event and to register visit www.visitconversationsaboutrace.eventbrite.com.