Santos Rodriguez: The March of Justice — 1973

by Paula Bosse

santos-rodriguez_march_contact-sheet-12_andy-hanson_degolyer_SMUThe March of Justice, July 28, 1973… (photo: Andy Hanson / SMU)

by Paula Bosse

In the wee hours of the morning of Saturday, July 24, 1973, 12-year-old Santos Rodriguez — who was handcuffed in the front seat of a police car — was shot in the head by a Dallas police officer attempting to coerce a confession in a deadly game of Russian roulette. Santos died instantly, as his 13-year-old brother — also handcuffed — watched in horror from the back seat. The shooting (which I wrote about here) set off an explosion of outrage in Dallas, with the bitterest and angriest coming from the Mexican American community.

Four days after Santos was killed, a “March of Justice for Santos Rodriguez” was scheduled to be held in downtown Dallas, beginning at the Kennedy Memorial and ending at City Hall (the old Municipal Building, at Main and Harwood). The event was to be a peaceful march to show the solidarity of the Hispanic community and to protest what many felt was racial prejudice within the Dallas Police Department.

The march down Main Street to City Hall was earnest, and the speeches at City Hall by Dallas activists and concerned civic leaders were impassioned calls to action. After the speeches, many of the marchers headed back to the Kennedy Memorial. About halfway back, they encountered another group of marchers.

At some point, various groups described as “outside agitators” arrived. While the first crowd was listening to speeches at City Hall, a second (and perhaps later even a third) group of protestors assembled and began their own march to City Hall. These new arrivals (many said to be from Fort Worth and Waco) appear to have been the spark that set off what has been described as a “riot,” which erupted back at City Hall, with protesters attacking the police (who had been ordered to refrain from retaliation), breaking windows, and looting several downtown businesses. The image most emblematic of the day was a burning police motorcycle lying in the street just outside City Hall.

…[A]ll was havoc. A motorcycle was burning, a news vehicle was smashed, several officers injured and the sound of shattering glass filled the street… [T]he stench of burning rubber filled the air.” (“Police Taunted By Crowd” by Mitch Lobrovich, Dallas Morning News, July 29, 1973)

Luckily, there were few injuries, and the crowd dispersed after less than an hour.

A couple of days after the protest, the Rodriguez family issued this statement:

The Rodriguez family would only ask that when the people of Dallas hear the name Santos Rodriguez they think not of the unwanted violence that became associated with his name Saturday; but they think of the real Santos Rodriguez, a gentle and well-liked 12-year-old boy who had his life tragically taken from him.

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Below (and above), photos taken that day by Dallas Times Herald photographer Andy Hanson which were recently unearthed by curator Anne Peterson, from the collection of his photographs at SMU’s DeGolyer Library:

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The only footage I’ve found of the actual march is this video, uploaded recently to YouTube by Mountain View College. It was apparently shot by a Dallas police officer. There is no sound. This is great. Thank you, Mountain View, for preserving this important historical moment.


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Sources & Notes

Photos taken by Andy Hanson on July 28, 1973; from the Collection of Photographs by Andy Hanson, DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University. See the rest of the photos from this day, here. (Note: this does not appear to be the entirety of Hanson’s photos taken that day.) Read about the full Andy Hanson Collection at SMU, here

Read “Honoring Santos Rodriguez” by Anne E. Peterson, Curator of Photographs at the DeGolyer Library (and the person who unearthed these Andy Hanson photos), here.

The YouTube video is titled “Santo Rodriguez 1973 News Footage,” with the description “Rare news footage taken during the 1973 protests in downtown Dallas following the tragic shooting death of 12 year old Santos Rodriguez by a Dallas Police officer. No audio.” I’d like to know more about the story behind this footage.

The coverage of the march(es) and ensuing riot is confusing. A couple of months after the march, Jose Antonio Gonzales wrote a fascinating and (seemingly) comprehensive report for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram on how the events developed and unfolded, with an almost moment-by-moment timeline and insight into the individuals involved. Read his fantastic job of reporting in the (awkwardly-titled) article “Chicano Leadership Unity Faulted in Study of Boy’s Death” (FWST, Sept. 16, 1973): part one is here; part two is here.

My previous post on Santos Rodriguez — “Santos Rodriguez, 1960-1973” — is here.

Click pictures to see larger images.

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Copyright © 2018 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.