17 episodes

Reckon Radio presents: “Unjustifiable,” an investigative series from Pulitzer-prize winning columnist John Archibald and Roy S. Johnson examining an overlooked moment of civil rights history in the heart of the South. The story begins in 1979, when a police officer with a history of complaints shot and killed a 20-year-old Black woman named Bonita Carter. Her death would forever change the course of Birmingham, Alabama. This is a story about the South in 1979 as well as America in 2020.


Each season of Reckon Radio tells one in-depth story with Southern roots. Season One, "Greek Gods," examined the power and reach of a secret society at the University of Alabama. Season Two, "Recused," examined the rise and fall of Jeff Sessions.

Reckon Radio Reckon

    • History
    • 4.6 • 218 Ratings

Reckon Radio presents: “Unjustifiable,” an investigative series from Pulitzer-prize winning columnist John Archibald and Roy S. Johnson examining an overlooked moment of civil rights history in the heart of the South. The story begins in 1979, when a police officer with a history of complaints shot and killed a 20-year-old Black woman named Bonita Carter. Her death would forever change the course of Birmingham, Alabama. This is a story about the South in 1979 as well as America in 2020.


Each season of Reckon Radio tells one in-depth story with Southern roots. Season One, "Greek Gods," examined the power and reach of a secret society at the University of Alabama. Season Two, "Recused," examined the rise and fall of Jeff Sessions.

    Unjustifiable Chapter 6: Point 14

    Unjustifiable Chapter 6: Point 14

    The killing of Bonita Carter in 1979 changed Birmingham, and its leadership. Protests following her death forced the city to reshape its police department, four decades before Black Lives Matter made its greatest impact. It was a decade after Black civil rights leaders had gathered in Birmingham to make 14 points to their white peers in Birmingham, to demand acknowledgement that Black people were still treated as second class citizens.
    They pointed out longstanding police violence against Black residents, that Black people consistently were given less courtesy and respect from police. That white people got a benefit of the doubt as Black people got a bullet. Today, conversations across the country are almost the same. On the final episode of Unjustifiable, John Archibald and Roy S. Johnson discuss what has changed, and what Bonita Carter still has to teach us.


    Show Notes:
    Guests: Uche Bean, Brian Burghart, Catherine Conner, Shelley Stewart, Jasmyn Story, Randall Woodfin
    Creator: John Archibald
    Hosts: John Archibald & Roy S. Johnson
    Executive Producer: John Hammontree
    Producer & Audio Engineer: Alexander Richey
    Producers: Amy Yurkanin and Marsha Oglesby


    Score: Thad Saajid, Austin Motlow, David Marsh, and Danny Ray Wilkerson, Jr. Additional music contributed by Jeremy Smith.


    Music: “Jackson” by The Pollies; Single Lock Studios; “Tension” by Todd Snider


    Voice Acting: R.L. Nave, Barnett Wright
     
    See acast.com/privacy for privacy and opt-out information.

    • 43 min
    Unjustifiable Chapter 5: "Shoot her again"

    Unjustifiable Chapter 5: "Shoot her again"

    Who is Officer George Sands? The Birmingham police officer had amassed more than a dozen complaints before fatally shooting Bonita Carter. He’d been seen as a problem by some city leaders, while others protected him – saying he was just a symptom of a poorly trained police department rather than a rogue bad apple?
    Before being elected mayor, Richard Arrington had been shocked to learn Sands was Bonita Carter’s killer, for he had been in so much trouble before. But Sands was protected by the powerful police union, and county rules that restricted the authority of the mayor.
    Arrington set out to integrate and reshape the police department, to change the shooting policy that had left so many Black men dead. But would it be possible to remove Sands?
    And, given all that’s happened since, how does Sands feel about that night in 1979?


    Show Notes:


    Guests: George Sands, T.K. Thorne, Nathaniel Bagley, Richard Arrington, Uche Bean
    Creator: John Archibald
    Hosts: John Archibald & Roy S. Johnson
    Executive Producer: John Hammontree
    Producer & Audio Engineer: Alexander Richey
    Producers: Amy Yurkanin and Marsha Oglesby


    Score: Thad Saajid, Austin Motlow, David Marsh, and Danny Ray Wilkerson, Jr. Additional music contributed by Jeremy Smith.
    Music: “Call on Me” by Cedric Burnside; Single Lock Studios


    Voice Acting: Ike Morgan, Jeremy Smith
     
    See acast.com/privacy for privacy and opt-out information.

    • 32 min
    Unjustifiable Chapter 4: Catching the Devil on All Sides

    Unjustifiable Chapter 4: Catching the Devil on All Sides

    The status quo was broken in Birmingham, Alabama, in the weeks after the Bonita Carter killing. The city once known as Bombingham, as the Johannesburg of the South, reeled from protests, and counter-protests from the Ku Klux Klan. A scientist, a former college dean named Richard Arrington who had long been aligned with that white progressive mayor, David Vann, broke away from the mayor to launch his own campaign. A committee formed by Vann to take testimony from witnesses to the shooting – one of the main reasons we can reconstruct the events of the crime – found Officer George Sands had no cause to shoot Carter. Yet Sands remained on the force.


    Just sixteen years after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. marched through the city, the election of 1979 would prove pivotal for Black residents exercising their voting power. How would voters decide?


    Show Notes:
    Guests: Richard Arrington Jr., Richard Mauk, Scott Douglas, Solomon Crenshaw


    Creator: John Archibald
    Hosts: John Archibald & Roy S. Johnson
    Executive Producer: John Hammontree
    Producer & Audio Engineer: Alexander Richey
    Producers: Amy Yurkanin and Marsha Oglesby


    Score: Thad Saajid, Austin Motlow, David Marsh, and Danny Ray Wilkerson, Jr. Additional music contributed by Jeremy Smith.


    Music: “Haverford Impromptu #2” by Sun-Ra; and “Lay it Down” by Donnie Fritts
     
    See acast.com/privacy for privacy and opt-out information.

    • 33 min
    Unjustifiable Chapter 3: The Shoebox

    Unjustifiable Chapter 3: The Shoebox

    What was it about the killing of Bonita Carter that sparked police reform? The search for that answer led the Reckon Radio team into the bowels of the Birmingham Public Library, to a recently discovered box of “Birmingham Police Shooting and Incident Cards.” These cards, seen by almost no one in decades, detail the lives of hundreds of people in Jefferson County, Alabama – the deaths of hundreds, killed by police and security officers and written off, seemingly casually, as “justifiable.”
    Almost all the victims are Black. Almost all are men. Many are young, teenagers, shot in the back as they ran, or walked away, or were simply suspected of a crime as trivial as picking up a few bucks off a lunch counter. What was it about Bonita Carter? The answer in these files and others, which indicate that more police in this one county shot as many as 500 people in the last century, that they were not just allowed to shoot people they believed had committed a crime, they were expected and encouraged to do it. Especially if the suspect were Black.


    Show Notes:
    Guests: Cynthia Carter, Brian Burghart, Jay Glass, Uche Bean


    Creator: John Archibald
    Hosts: John Archibald & Roy S. Johnson
    Executive Producer: John Hammontree
    Producer & Audio Engineer: Alexander Richey
    Producers: Amy Yurkanin and Marsha Oglesby


    Score: Thad Saajid, Austin Motlow, David Marsh, and Danny Ray Wilkerson, Jr. Additional music contributed by Jeremy Smith.


    Music: "Vehemence," by Thad Saajid


    Voice Acting: R.L. Nave, Barnett Wright, Danny Ray Wilkerson, Jr.
     
    See acast.com/privacy for privacy and opt-out information.

    • 35 min
    Unjustifiable Chapter 2: Anger and action

    Unjustifiable Chapter 2: Anger and action

    Protest began to swell in Birmingham began to swell the night Bonita Carter was killed, and it grew larger and larger in the days that followed. Black people, who had marched for voting power and integrated water fountains and lunch counters a decade and a half before, took to the streets to condemn police violence from a department built by Bull Connor. The killing of Bonita Carter seemed to be the last straw, especially when the mayor, a progressive named David Vann who had helped push Connor out in the ’60s, hesitated to discipline the police officer who shot her. The killing demanded change.


    What was it about her that seemed to mobilize a city?


    Show Notes:
    Guests: Solomon Crenshaw, Nathaniel Bagley, TK Thorne, Richard Mauk, Richard Arrington, Jr.


    Creator: John Archibald
    Hosts: John Archibald & Roy S. Johnson
    Executive Producer: John Hammontree
    Producer & Audio Engineer: Alexander Richey
    Producers: Amy Yurkanin and Marsha Oglesby


    Score: Thad Saajid, Austin Motlow, David Marsh, and Danny Ray Wilkerson, Jr. Additional music contributed by Jeremy Smith.


    Music: "Hard to Stay Cool," by Cedric Burnside; Single Lock Records


    Voice Acting: Nigel Thomas, Sheikilya Thomas, Alexander Richey, Barnett Wright and John Hammontree
     
    See acast.com/privacy for privacy and opt-out information.

    • 37 min
    Unjustifiable Chapter 1: 'It was a girl in the car'

    Unjustifiable Chapter 1: 'It was a girl in the car'

    June 22, 1979, just another evening in Birmingham Alabama, and Bonita Carter and her friends ride their bikes to a convenience store as the sun sets. What happened there would change their lives, and their cities forever. Chapter one of “Unjustifiable” reconstructs those events, moment by moment and step by step, from the vantage points of onlookers, participants, store workers, witnesses and police. By the end of the night, a police officer named George Sands fired four shots into a car, killing the unarmed young Black woman, after a white man pointed to the car and screamed that she was dangerous man with a shotgun. Carter’s friends screamed too: “It’s a girl in the car!”
    They were ignored.


    Show Notes:
    Creator: John Archibald
    Hosts: John Archibald & Roy S. Johnson
    Executive Producer: John Hammontree
    Producer & Audio Engineer: Alexander Richey
    Producers: Amy Yurkanin and Marsha Oglesby


    Score: Thad Saajid, Austin Motlow, David Marsh, and Danny Ray Wilkerson, Jr. Additional music contributed by Jeremy Smith.


    Music: "Ain't Gonna Take No Mess," by Cedric Burnside; Single Lock Records


    Voice Acting: Alex Williams, Finn Jasele, David Perry, Jonathan Sobolewski, R.L. Nave, Ike Morgan, Alexander Richey, Barnett Wright, Nigel Thomas and Sheikilya Thomas.
     
    See acast.com/privacy for privacy and opt-out information.

    • 26 min

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5
218 Ratings

218 Ratings

AnnaClaire ,

Exciting and fascinating

I didn’t know anything about Bonita Carter before this podcast but found myself totally immersed in her story, which becomes the city’s story. It’s interesting and timely to hear about all the different lenses her death was viewed from, and how similar it feels to current events. Definitely recommend, especially if you liked White Lies and similar podcasts.

AmyYurk ,

Unjustifiable

Really well done. Not many people know the story of Bonita Carter, but before George Floyd, her death changed policing and politics in Birmingham, Alabama

Craig5353 ,

Great podcast.

I really enjoyed this podcast. I do realize investing a issue takes time, but would love to have more podcast about other issues going on in our state. Thanks for your work.

Top Podcasts In History

You Might Also Like