New documentary shines bright light on dark chapter in Dallas history

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DALLAS -- July 24, 1973.  A 12-year-old Latino boy is pulled from his bed, handcuffed, and accused of a crime he didn't commit--which was stealing a mere $8 from a vending machine.  Attempting to force a confession, a white Dallas police officer puts his gun to the boy's head and plays Russian Roulette.

The first pull is empty.

The second one is not.

Santos Rodriguez bleeds out in officer Darrell Cain's squad car in front of his 13-year-old brother, who had also been detained.  Cain later testifies he thought his gun was unloaded but is convicted of murder--however he's only sentenced to five years in prison and only serves half of that.  The story makes national news and a race riot breaks out in downtown Dallas.  It galvanizes the still-small Mexican-American community like nothing ever had before and leads to changes in the police department, including hiring more minority officers and changing some of the department's practices.

If you haven't heard this story, you're not alone.  It took 40 years for the City of Dallas just to issue a formal apology to his family, and now as the 45th anniversary approaches this week a new documentary titled "Santos Vive" (Santos Lives) is part of an ongoing effort to make sure his legacy is not forgotten.

"A lot of the younger generations didn't know about the story," says Rodriguez family spokesperson Cynthia Cordova, "and now that they know they want to know more.  So I believe when the story is told, the younger generation will keep on knowing about Santos."

The documentary's director, Byron Hunter, was nine years old and living in Dallas when Santos was murdered.

"When Santos was killed, it was in every newspaper in the United States.  So it wasn't something that Dallas could kind of [sweep under the rug].  They had to respond to what the nation was saying."

But Hunter insists the film is not about picking at old wounds, and it tells a larger tale about how the murder sparked many positive changes in Dallas.

"It's a project to educate young people," he says.  "A whole community should always know about this type of history."

The film will debut at a public screening Tuesday night at the Texas Theatre in Oak Cliff at 7:30, after which some final touches will be added and it will be pitched to networks and studios with the hope of delivering it to a worldwide audience.  Minimum donations of $5 are requested with proceeds going to the Santos Vive Project, which seeks to get a memorial built in Dallas, help the Rodriguez family financially (they never received any monetary settlement from the city), and promote the documentary.

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Click here to watch the trailer.

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