Bonita Carter (born c. 1958; died June 22, 1979 in Birmingham) was twenty years old and living with her parents when she was shot by Birmingham police officer George Sands, responding to an altercation at Jerry's Convenience Store in Kingston.
Though she had committed no crime, Carter was accompanying a man who had been arguing with the store's clerk and was getting into his car when Sands shot her. Though she was shot several times at close range, a citizen review board ruled that Sands' actions were justified.
That finding, and Mayor David Vann's subsequent support for Sands, who already had as many as six outstanding complaints for excessive force, provoked mass demonstrations and reignited protests against suspected systematic brutality against African Americans. The Kingston neighborhood itself became ground zero for people on both sides of the issue looking to make trouble. Guns were fired into the air, one person was injured by a thrown brick and several people were arrested in the area. A group of 50 whites, including members of the Ku Klux Klan confronted 25 picketers at a store owned by Jerry Huff, who also owned the store where Carter was shot. Police kept the groups separated, though taunts and slurs continued to be hurled.
Sands was supported by the Fraternal Order of Police Birmingham Lodge No. 1 as well as the Ku Klux Klan. Tensions rose as a group of white citizens brandishing arms drove through Kingston to show support for Sands. Residents armed themselves, raising the threat of an all-out riot. The city won a court order from judge William Barber to keep groups of more than three from demonstrating in the neighborhood.
The case was largely credited with undercutting support for Vann in the black community and making it possible for Birmingham City Councilor Richard Arrington Jr, who had made police brutality an issue while on the Council, to launch a successful bid to become the city's first African American mayor.
- Jackson, J. D. (June 21, 2009) "MY VIEW: Lest we forget Bonita Carter." The Birmingham News editorial