Scholarship Supports SMU Human Rights Studies

Just over 50 years after 12-year-old Santos Rodriguez was fatally shot by a Dallas police officer July 24, 1973, SMU will soon announce the next recipient of the Santos Rodriguez Memorial Endowed Scholarship.

The scholarship, which supports students studying human rights at the university, 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. The next awardee is expected to be announced shortly after classes resume at SMU. To support the scholarship, click here.

Dr. Rick Halperin, the director of SMU’s human rights program, said he was a graduate student at SMU at the time in 1973 when he heard about how Santos was shot by Dallas police officer Darrell Cain, who, as our sister publication D Magazine reported, played Russian roulette with Santos’ life during an interrogation regarding money stolen from a cigarette 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 and sentenced to five years in prison but served half that. Cain’s partner Roy Arnold, who was with him during the questioning of Santos and his brother, was fired but never faced charges. 

“Like anybody, I was horrified – just shocked at how horrific it was,” 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.

“We didn’t, clearly, want to leave it there. There was a lot more that we felt had to be done, and some of that has been done,” Halperin said. “We were horrified that there was nothing in public life named for Santos Rodriguez. An apology was the beginning, but after 40 years of such a horrible crime, we felt that something in public had to happen.”

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

“We still pushed forward to have something in public,” Halperin said. He said a former Greenhill student, Areeba Amer, wrote an editorial in 2018 that was published in the Dallas Morning News, pressing the city to publicly memorialize Santos as well. 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.

Halperin said the Santos Vive Coalition was organized, and filmmaker Byron Hunter produced the documentary “Santos Vive” which has been screened across the city this week. All PBS stations in Texas also plan to show the documentary during Hispanic Heritage Month in September.

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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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