Santos Rodriguez Memorialized by SMU

Scholarship program supports students’ study of human rights

SMU is expected to announce the next recipient of the Santos Rodriguez Memorial Endowed Scholarship soon, slightly more than 50 years after a Dallas police officer fatally shot 12-year-old Santos Rodriguez on July 24, 1973. 

The scholarship was established as part of a partnership between SMU’s human rights program, the Latino Center for Leadership Development, and Rodriguez’s family, including his mother, Bessie, and brother, David. 

Thus far, Karly Zrake received the first Santos Rodriguez Memorial Endowed scholarship, followed by Anna Ramirez and Tyne Dickson. 

Dickson, 23, now works in Houston with the nonprofit Restoring Justice, which focuses on ending mass incarceration.

“The human rights program empowered me to not only really study issues and fight for issues but really cultivate what my passions were as an activist and what I want to be doing in the world,” Dickson said. “Without Santos and the human rights program and all these things coming into place, I wouldn’t be where I am now, which is direct action work for incarcerated people.”

Dr. Rick Halperin, the director of SMU’s human rights program, said he was a graduate student at SMU in 1973 when he heard about how Dallas police officer Darrell Cain, as our sister publication D Magazine reported, played Russian roulette with Santos’ life during an interrogation regarding money stolen from a vending machine at a Fina station. Cain reportedly later said he thought he’d emptied the gun of bullets before the questioning, but he was convicted of murder with malice five years after the shooting. He served half of his five-year prison sentence. 

Cain’s partner Roy Arnold, who was present during the questioning of Santos and his brother, was fired but never faced charges.

“Like anybody, I was horrified,” Halperin said. “I returned to SMU to join the history department in January of 1985 and began teaching human rights, and that case always was high on my list.”

“When I came back and started teaching my human rights courses, I was even more horrified to find out that then … the family had not received anything – not even an apology,” he added. 

Halperin said he contacted community activist Hadi Jawad near the 40th anniversary of the shooting in 2013, and they began pressuring the city to do more. Former Mayor Mike Rawlings apologized to Santos’ family that year. 

“An apology was the beginning, but after 40 years of such a horrible crime, we felt that something in public had to happen,” Halperin said.

“Dallas cannot run away from its own history,” Jawad added. “Basically, what we’re saying is this is a story that should never be forgotten.”

Dallas Police Chief Eddie Garcia also apologized to Santos’ mother, Bessie, in 2021.

“We still pushed forward to have something in public,” Halperin said. A former Greenhill student, Areeba Amer, wrote an editorial in 2018 pressing the city to memorialize Santos publicly. Since then, Halperin said they worked with former Dallas parks board member and current city councilman Jesse Moreno to help install a memorial statue in Pike Park last year.

Jawad convened the Santos Rodriguez Coalition about 10 years ago and organized events commemorating the anniversary of Santos’ murder, including a march at Pike Park this year.

“Every year, every time we have organized events for Santos Rodriguez, we’ve had more people come to the table,” he said. “This year was our largest coalition.”

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Rachel Snyder

Rachel Snyder, former deputy editor at People Newspapers, joined the staff in 2019, returning to her native Dallas-Fort Worth after starting her career at community newspapers in Oklahoma. One of her stories won first place in its category in the Oklahoma Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest in 2018. She’s a fan of puns and community journalism, not necessarily in that order.

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