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Jill P. Carter looks to carry out father's mission in Baltimore civil rights role

In 1968, in the wake of the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the riots that tore Baltimore apart, Mayor Thomas D'Alesandro III nominated the relentless civil rights activist Walter P. Carter to lead an anti-poverty agency and bring about "liberal and aggressive" change.

The backlash from the city's old guard was swift: The City Council rejected Carter's nomination. One council member said Carter was "too militant." Another called him "too radical." A third called on the mayor to nominate more of "our people" to city jobs. In case there was any confusion, he made himself clear: "I mean white people."

Half a century later, Walter P. Carter's daughter now has an opportunity to pursue the civil rights work inside city government that the establishment once prevented her father from doing.

Jill P. Carter has taken over Baltimore's Office of Civil Rights and Wage Enforcement at a pivotal moment in city history. The death of Freddie Gray, the riots that followed and the Justice Department investigation of the Police Department have brought new scrutiny to Baltimore's long-festering problems. City police are now working under a court-enforced consent decree mandating reform.

Carter, a 52-year-old attorney, sees an opportunity to finally bring about the change her father envisioned. The Democrat resigned her seat in the House of Delegates to join the administration of Mayor Catherine Pugh.

"Baltimore, when it comes to issues of racial and economic justice, has not advanced very far since the time of my father," she said. "But with the right vision and resources we can become the model for the whole country."

In her new role, Carter now oversees the Civilian Review Board, which investigates complaints against police; the Community Relations Commission, which investigates discrimination claims throughout the city; and the Wage Commission, which enforces rules on minimum, living and prevailing wages.

These agencies have been weak and underutilized for years, Carter says. Now, she says, it's time they wake up and flex some muscle.

"This office has the ability to mete out justice everywhere in Baltimore City," Carter said. "It's so unfair for people to have a ceiling on their life before they even get started. That happens far too often in Baltimore between drugs, lead poisoning, sub-standard housing and dilapidated schools.

"I believe the current administration is committed to changing the conditions that have plagued too many people in Baltimore for far too long."

'Goal's got to be liberation'

Jill Carter was 7 years old when her father died of a heart attack in 1971 while speaking at a meeting of Baltimore's Black United Front. Walter Carter was 48.

The North Carolina native came to Baltimore after earning a master's degree in social work at Howard University. While leading the Baltimore branch of CORE, the Congress for Racial Equality, Carter took part in sit-ins, freedom rides and other protests throughout Maryland. He was arrested at least six times between 1961 and 1963.

He pushed for desegregation in Ocean City, Westminster and at the Gwynn Oak Amusement Park. In his own words, he attacked segregation "militantly, forcefully and unrelentingly."

"You got to be militant but you got to be smart," he told The Baltimore Sun in 1968. "You got to operate on soul feeling. Your goal's got to be liberation, not integration."

Carter led protests against the Baltimore real estate tycoon Morris Goldseker, whom Carter and other activists accused of blockbusting — a practice through which developers stoked racial fears to increase profits. The day before his death, Carter won a court decision against Goldseker, who had sought to block activists from picketing outside his office.

He was known for not pulling punches. He once criticized Mayor Theodore McKeldin as a "tom," and D'Alesandro — who became a Carter supporter — as a candidate who "bought himself an office."

After the City Council voted down his nomination to head the Community Action Agency, Carter described the council as being controlled by racists.

The councilmen "want me to say they are good white folks and that I am the slave and they are the masters, but those days are gone forever," he said. "They stand for absolutely everything I deplore."

Lenwood M. Ivey remembers Carter as relatively subdued. Ivey, president of the Baltimore City Foundation, bonded with Carter over their upbringings in the South.

He said Carter was more strategic than other civil rights leaders of the time.

"Walter was fairly quiet, soft-spoken," Ivey said. "Most of the leaders of the movement at the time were ministers. They tended to preach and yell and fire people up. Walter was more disciplined. When he spoke, he didn't speak a lot of rhetoric. He was very specific. He would talk about what we were going to do and how we were going to do it."

Ivey says he sees Walter Carter's influence on Jill Carter when he reads her quotes in the newspaper.

Jill Carter, a state delegate for 14 years, led a legislative effort opposing the construction of a new youth jail in Baltimore and sponsored "Christopher's Law," which requires police to undergo more training on use and level of force, cultural diversity and lifesaving skills. The law is named for Christopher Brown, a 17-year-old student at Randallstown High School who was killed in an encounter with an off-duty Baltimore County police officer in 2012.

Carter was a vocal opponent of the mass arrests under the mayoral administration of Martin O'Malley, and sponsored "Phylicia's Law," which requires state officials to publish lists of missing children and oversee local search efforts. It was named for Phylicia Barnes, the North Carolina teen who disappeared while visiting Baltimore in 2010 and was later found dead.

Still, Carter says, she felt marginalized in Annapolis. Outside of the Legislative Black Caucus, she said, she was blocked from holding leadership positions and saw many of her proposals ignored.

"I thought I was going to have a chance to fight for real issues and make real change," Carter said. "I was excited about it because it was a continuation of my dad's struggle and our people's struggle for justice, fairness and equality. But I was very surprised about how much resistance there was in the Maryland General Assembly on so many issues."

Carter said her proposals to keep lead out of pipes in the city's public schools, increase civilian oversight of police, expunge arrest records and increase school funding for Baltimore all met resistance.

Del. Curt Anderson, chairman of Baltimore's House delegation, said he agrees that Carter's ideas were frequently marginalized in Annapolis.

"It probably still stings a little bit," he said, "but now she has a tremendous opportunity to do something on her own. She's leadership now."

The Office of Civil Rights was created in 2010 by then-Mayor Sheila Dixon. Carter is its third director, after Alvin O. Gillard and Kisha A. Brown.

Anderson said some of the commissions that report to the office have sat vacant or underutilized for too long.

"Jill Carter is someone who can infuse energy in these commissions," Anderson said. "I'm looking for these boards to be more than paper tigers."

Ivey said he thinks Carter can have a larger impact in her new role than she could as one of 141 members of the House of Delegates.

"In the General Assembly, you're one of many," he said. "But I think she has the same revolutionary attitude that her father had, and she has the same basic interests in helping people who are less fortunate.

"She brings to it the knowledge of what can be done to expand civil rights in ways that really affect people's lives."

Carter drew criticism from law enforcement in February for expressing empathy for an armed 18-year-old in West Baltimore who was shot and killed by police.

"I always think of how stupid & foolish I was at 18, 19, 20 ... 30," Carter wrote on Facebook. "Whatever that child did or didn't do, I'm fairly certain he was scared & 18 year old foolish & immature. Even if use of force protocol was followed, that doesn't mean this child's death was unavoidable. Another child is dead."

Harford County Sheriff Jeff Gahler posted a response blaming that thinking for the surging crime rate in Baltimore.

"After reading the comments of this city official and former legislator, I believe this is exactly why the bloodshed in Baltimore has grown, and why I am clueless on how the Baltimore Police Department can attract anyone willing to go out and actually do police work," Gahler wrote. "It is apparent that there is more concern for the 18 year old armed criminal offender than for the police officer who was put in a position that forced him to take another person's life."

Carter said she sees the humanity of everyone involved in the shooting — the 18-year-old and the officer.

"How do you hear or read about an 18-year-old dying and not have empathy?" she asked. "I'm just a person who believes through the grace of God and good parenting I avoided a lot of problems as a young person. I stayed away from a lot of bad acts because I had fear of disappointing my parents or my father's legacy. I have a lot of empathy and sympathy for young people who too often lack the kind of guidance and structure that I had."

The support of Mayor Pugh

Pugh and Carter have struck some political observers as unlikely allies. Pugh received much backing for her mayoral run from the business and political establishment. Carter has positioned herself as an activist and outsider.

But Carter says Pugh has often used her establishment connections to accomplish goals the two share. She was the first elected official from Baltimore to endorse Pugh for mayor and campaigned with her frequently.

"She lent a certain hope to the issues no one usually cared about, like prisoners' rights," Carter said. "While many people characterized Senator Pugh as a favorite of the establishment, I felt that she did the right thing and utilized that favor to do some challenging things others wouldn't do."

Pugh says she selected Carter for the job because she "has the pulse of the community, especially with young people and on justice issues."

The job pays an annual salary of $100,000.

Carter faces some major challenges right away.

From the time the Civilian Review Board was organized in 1999 until this year, not one police commissioner has ever heeded a board recommendation to impose tougher discipline on an officer, The Baltimore Sun has reported. The board can only recommend sanctions and hope that the commissioner agrees.

"I want to change the Civilian Review Board to a civilian oversight board," Carter said. "That's not radical. What's radical is for civilians to have no say in the policing of their communities."

The consent decree the city negotiated with the Department of Justice could help. The agreement calls for changes to the Civilian Review Board, which Carter hopes will increase the panel's power.

Ray Kelly, director of the West Baltimore-based No Boundaries Coalition, says his organization has long believed the Civilian Review Board was a "toothless tiger."

But Kelly said he sees hope in Carter's approach. And he believes the consent decree could lead to more powerful civilian oversight in Baltimore.

"I'm optimistic. Jill Carter is the right person to be in that seat," he said. "The Civilian Review Board should have some kind of disciplinary prowess. Right now, there is no fear of consequence. There has to be some kind of fear of repercussions."

Rodney Hill, chief of internal affairs for the Baltimore Police Department, said Carter is already starting to make a difference.

Hill said Carter has influenced the internal affairs division to change two of its findings.

In one case, an officer was accused of using abusive and sexually explicit language with residents. The other case involved allegations of excessive force, false arrest and abusive language.

In each case, the division found that the complaints were not supported. The board said that they were.

"She was able to make her pitch and, at the end of the day, I agreed with her," Hill said.

"With Jill, she's not mean-spirited about it. She's a critic, but I can handle criticism if it makes you better."

Hill said internal affairs investigators have been reluctant in the past to honor Civilian Review Board opinions because the board didn't include facts or reasoning with its recommendations.

"Their stuff was based on what they saw on television," he said. "In order for people to have respect for civilian review, they have to have the training. She's really big on making sure the members receive a lot of training."

Carter said the Community Relations Commission also can do much more.

The agency investigates individual cases of discrimination, much like a local branch of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and tries to settle complaints. But Carter thinks it's ready take a broader stand against institutionalized oppression — in housing, employment and government.

"I think we can take broader view in terms of conducting investigations," she said. "I want to move us toward us confronting systemic discrimination beyond an individual complainant."

Carter has limited funds to work with. The Office of Civil Rights is scheduled to receive a small cut in funding this year.

John B. Ferron Sr., past director of the Baltimore Community Relations Commission, says Carter is taking over an organization that past mayors have allowed to languish.

"That agency was watered down so much it was emasculated," he said. "Jill is the ideal appointee for director. I'm glad it appears there's going to be an independent, competent body that will be dealing with police misconduct."

Carter said her office is at a "critical stage."

"We're either going to take everything we know from the DOJ report and go in the direction of authentic civilian oversight," she said, "or we're going to continue in a way that doesn't bring the necessary changes.

"This is our time. I hope we don't miss our time."

lbroadwater@baltsun.com

twitter.com/lukebroadwater

Jill P. Carter

Age: 52

Position: Director, Baltimore Office of Civil Rights & Wage Enforcement, 2016-present.

Experience: House of Delegates, 2003-2016; assistant public defender, lawyer in private practice.

Education: B.A., Loyola College; J.D., University of Baltimore.

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