Finally, an apology from the city of Dallas for 12-year-old boy’s murder

Posted Wednesday, Sep. 25, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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sanders Picketers already were outside the Dallas City Performance Hall when I arrived Saturday morning to participate in the first of several planned “Conversations about Race” the city will host in the coming year.

There was also a heavy police presence at the downtown theater, and attendees had to walk through metal detectors to enter the building.

To talk about race anywhere, perhaps especially in Dallas, automatically causes a degree of tension and calls for an extra degree of caution.

Before the program, panelists waited in the green room with the project’s co-chairs, Mayor Mike Rawlings, Dallas Councilman Dwaine Caraway and County Commissioner Elba Garcia.

The mayor introduced some police officials, who pointed out where other officers were located in the building and explained the protocol for handling any possible disturbances during the program, including the signal that would indicate that an unruly audience member would be escorted from the hall.

Before getting to the stage, a few of the panel members and the mayor talked generally about race relations in Dallas, and the subject turned to the case of Santos Rodriguez, the 12-year-old who was shot by a Dallas policeman 40 years ago. It was his murder for which many of the demonstrators Saturday were calling on the mayor and city to issue an apology.

I covered the initial story of Santos’ death, which resulted in rioting in downtown Dallas, and in July served as emcee for a memorial service in commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the slaying.

With Santos’ grieving mother in attendance at the memorial, several participants spoke of how his death had left a wound in the Hispanic community, made more painful by the fact that the city had never apologized.

Just thinking about the shooting makes my heart ache.

Santos and his 13-year-old brother, David, had been taken from their grandfather’s house by two police officers in the middle of the night and accused of burglarizing a vending machine at a service station.

The officers drove the boys to the service station, with David in the back seat with one officer and Santos, still shoeless and in his pajamas, in the front seat.

The officer in the back, in an attempt to get Santos to confess, took out his gun, put it to the boy’s head and pulled the trigger. It didn’t fire. When he pulled the trigger the second time … well, Santos lay dead.

Officer Darrell Cain, who pulled the trigger, was convicted of murder with malice and given a five-year sentence. He served 2 1/2 years in prison.

In the performance hall green room Saturday, the mayor told a few of us that he was going to apologize for the killing in his closing remarks that morning.

I knew then that the apology would be the most important thing to come from this event and that the protesters outside were in for a huge surprise.

Several minutes into the panel discussion, two young men stood up and unfurled banners, one calling for an apology for Santos. Oh, if they only knew what was coming, I thought. But they continued to speak, the signal was given, and they were escorted out.

Later another person stood in the aisle, objecting to the ejection of the two protesters and calling once more for an apology. I interrupted, suggesting that if he’d be patient, he and the others just might be surprised.

Mayor Rawlings told the audience, “I got a lot of questions about apologizing for the death of Santos Rodriguez. I don’t have any clue why this city hasn’t apologized for that. There’s no excuse for that. And on behalf of the citizens of Dallas, the Dallas City Council, the Dallas Police Department, we wholeheartedly apologize for the death of Santos Rodriguez.”

It took 40 years. Thank God, Santos’ mother and David lived long enough to hear it.

This was a great way to kick off “Conversations about Race.”

Bob Ray Sanders' column appears Sundays and Wednesdays. 817-390-7775 Twitter: @BobRaySanders

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