NEWSLETTER OF THE

LOUISIANA COUNCIL                                                               BATON ROUGE COUNCIL

ON HUMAN RELATIONS                                                          ON HUMAN RELATIONS

 

Volume 43, Issue 4                                                                                                                                     Volume 42, Issue 4

                                                                              Paul Y. Burns, Interim Editor

LCHR Board Actions July and October

     The Board of Directors has met twice since the most recent newsletter was issued in July.  At its meeting July 14 in Baton Rouge, Patricia Rickels replaced Joseph McCarty as Newsletter Editor. Paul Burns reminded the Board that at the April 14, 2007 meeting he resigned as Assistant Newsletter Editor effective at the July Board meeting.  Rickels acknowledged the need from someone to provide information, as Burns formerly did, from the Baton Rouge area.  She hoped that Richard Haymaker would play this role.                                                                                                              As Corresponding Secretary, Rickels reported that on June 27 she had sent in the nomination of Dr. Holley Galland for a second three-year term on the Louisiana Health Care Commission.                                                                  Burns reported on a study which he has undertaken of racial discrimination in Louisiana Newcomers Clubs, planning to report his findings in our newsletter.  The Board commended this project and urged him to continue.                Officers for the year 2007-2008 were elected: Joe Dennis as President, Thelma Deamer as Vice-President, Patricia Rickels as Corresponding Secretary, Richard Haymaker as Membership Secretary, and John Mikell as Treasurer.                                                                                                                                                                                  At its meeting October 13 in Lafayette, the Board discussed at length the racism surrounding the case of the Jena Six, and then adopted a motion to commission Board members Brad Pollock and Julia Frederick to draw up a letter to be sent to the Louisiana media about the Jena Six.  The letter should give opinions consistent with LCHR                 principles.                                                                                                                                                                                Also at the October 13 meeting, Burns reported that he had slightly expanded his work on an anti-racism project, involving Newcomers & Moms clubs in Louisiana.  He plans to send a survey to the Louisiana clubs listed on the Internet, asking them if they are open to blacks and if they ever had a black member.  He asked that LCHR members who know about the race relations policies of any Louisiana Newcomers or Moms clubs to let him know.  To-date he has had only one response: the Lake Charles Newcomers Club has black members. His email address is pyburns@lycos.com, phone 225-387-4755.  The next meeting of the Board is to be in January, at Dr. Patricia Rickels’ home, 209 rue Chavaniac, Lafayette, the exact date to be determined later. 

Current Composition of the LCHR Officers and Board Members

   Class of 2008: Paul Y. Burns, Baton Rouge; Leslie & Shirley Burris, Baton Rouge; Joseph Dennis (President)  & Joseph McCarty, Lafayette; Rogers J. Newman, Baton Rouge; Patrickia Rickels (Corresponding Secretary), Lafayette; Eileen Shieber, Baton Rouge; Doris White, Opelousas (Plaisance).  Class of 2009: Bernard & Rose Mae Broussard, Franklin; Barbara Conner, Lafayette; James E. Cross, Baton Rouge; Anthony Navarre & Gregory Richard, Lafayette; Marjorie Green, Baton Rouge (replaced Roosevelt Stevenson).  Class of 2010: Eva Baham, Slidell; Peter Bonhomme, Breaux Bridge; Thelma Deamer (Vice-President); Julia Frederick, Lafayette; Richard Haymaker (Membership Secretary), Baton Rouge; Ted Hayes & Hector LaSala, Lafayette; John Mikell (Treasurer), Arnaudville; Elnur Musa & Huel Perkins, Baton Rouge; Bradley H. Pollock, Lafayette.

Racial Violence and Lack of Justice in Jena: the Jena Six Case                                                              

     The case of the Jena Six has evoked international attention as well as national.  Jena is a small town in northeastern Louisiana, LaSalle Parish, about 35 miles northeast of Alexandria.  Basically, the case of the Jena Six shows that in Jena there are two difference justice systems, one for whites, the other for blacks.                                                  Dr. Diana Dorroh, a member of the Board of Directors of the Baton Rouge Council on Human Relations, sent me on Nov. 8 a Chronology of Racial Violence in Jena, which is shown below. 

 

 

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Aug. 31, 2006:  Two black youths, after talking to the school principal at Jena High School, sit under a tree traditionally reserved for white students on the school campus.

Sept. 1, 2006:  The next day, three nooses are hung from the tree.  After initially being expelled by the principal, the three white students responsible are given three days of “in-school suspension.” The school superintendent is quoted as saying, "Adolescents play pranks. I don't think it was a threat to anybody."

Sept. 5, 2006:  A group of black students gathered and sat under the tree in protest. White students' parents called the police, and LaSalle County's white district attorney stormed the campus with armed police and gave an impromptu lecture to the black students who had gathered under the tree. "I could end your lives with the stroke of a pen," he reportedly told them.  Black students say that he was looking directly at them.

Sept. 8th, 2006:  Jena High School was placed on full lockdown. Most students, black and white, either stayed home, or were picked up by parents shortly after the lockdown was imposed. The Jena Times suggested that black parents were to blame for the unrest at the school because their September 5th gathering had attracted media attention.

Sept, 10, 2006:  Several dozen black students and parents attempted to address the school board concerning the recent events but were refused because the board was of the opinion that "the noose issue" had been adequately resolved.  Racial tensions in Jena remained high.

Nov, 30 2006:  Arson destroyed Jena High's main academic building. Local law enforcement cannot prove the fire was connected to the noose-hangings or the subsequent racially-motivated attacks.  This further escalated racial tensions in Jena as whites blamed blacks for the fire and blacks blamed whites.

Dec. 1, 2006:  Robert Bailey, one of the student leaders of the Jena High protests, was invited to a party attended by mostly white students.  At this party he was attacked by a 22-year old man wielding a beer bottle.  He was further attacked with bottles and blows after being knocked to the ground.

Dec. 2, 2006:  Robert Bailey and two friends went to a convenience store where they ran into a young white man from the previous night’s party.  After exchanging words with him, the trio entered the store.  The young white man greeted them with a pistol grip shotgun upon their exit.  The African-American boys wrested the gun from him and ran away.

December 4, 2006:  A white student, Justin Barker, was allegedly using racial epithets and celebrating the beating of Bailey at Friday night’s party.  A fight broke out, and Barker was knocked out.  He was kicked by a several black students after he hit the ground.  The police were called, and after speaking with several witnesses six boys – 17-year-old Robert Bailey, Jr. whose bail was set at $138,000; 17-year-old Theo Shaw - bail $130,000; 18-year-old Carwin Jones - bail $100,000; 17-year-old Bryant Purvis - bail $70,000; 16-year-old Mychal Bell, who was charged as an adult and for whom bail was set at $90,000; and a still unidentified juvenile – were arrested and charged with aggravated 2nd degree assault and conspiracy to commit the same.  District Attorney Reed Walters intervened to increase the charges to attempted second degree murder.  In the meantime, Justin Barker was treated at a hospital and released.  He attended his high school ring ceremony later that evening.  Bailey, Shaw, and another friend were also charged with theft of a firearm, second-degree robbery and disturbing the peace in connection with the incident at the convenience store.  Furthermore, the six were immediately expelled from Jena High.  The normal punishment for a fight at school is a three day suspension.

June 28th, 2007:  Mychal Bell, the first of the six to go to trial, was convicted of charges of aggravated 2nd degree assault and conspiracy to commit the same.  His court-appointed attorney did not challenge the composition of the all-white jury, did not ask for a change of venue, nor did the lawyer call witnesses or introduce evidence on Bell’s behalf.  He will be sentenced on September 20th, and faces up to 22 years in prison for the schoolyard fight. 

“Aggravated second degree assault” requires an assailant use a potentially lethal weapon.  The D.A. successfully argued that the black youths’ tennis shoes were lethal weapons.

 

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July 10th, 2007:  Two white men were arrested after they ran over a sign outside a black church in Jena that had just held an NAACP meeting. The two have been charged with “criminal damage to property.”

                                                                                                                                   

Justice and Reconciliation in Jena, Louisiana: Baton Rouge Response

By William Winters, Advocacy Staff, Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge with a few additions by Diana Dorroh, BRCHR Board Member

              

Baton Rouge residents responded strongly to the news of the injustices of Jena.  There were many independent loci of action – university students, politicians, churches, radio stations, and concerned citizen-activists all worked to raise awareness of the Jena Six within their circles.

The Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge first became active participants in the fight for equitable outcomes for the Jena Six in early August, when pastor Steve Crump and staff member William Winters gave a talk from the pulpit to inform the congregation of – as Crump put it – “the what, so what, and the now what.”  This was swiftly followed by vociferous institutional and congregational support for the Jena Six.  UCBR passed a resolution authorizing staff to publicly advocate for the Jena Six on the church’s behalf.  The church board, in the meantime, donated half of the cash offerings collected during the month of September to the Jena Six Legal Defense Fund.  The position of Advocacy Staff William Winters, who was just finishing a stint in AmeriCorps, was continued specifically for the purpose of providing additional leadership and support in the Church and in the community at large for the Jena Six.

 

William Winters spoke to the Board of the Baton Rouge Council on Human Relations on August 9.   The Council decided to support local actions and to write letters to the governor and other public officials to draw attention to the injustice in Jena.  

 

President Cynthia Manson’s letter to the editor appeared in The Advocate on September 19:

 

Governor urged to act on Jena issues

“In reference to the local, statewide, national and international concern being given to the ‘Jena 6' situation and the massive gathering to take place in Jena on Thursday, we urge the governor to act immediately in authorizing all action necessary to bring a temporary halt to all judicial proceedings against the black youth involved.

“In addition, we strongly urge the governor to act immediately in arranging for a thorough investigation into the whole series of events that resulted in what appears to be vastly unequal justice for white and black Jena High School students.

“As a human rights organization that has been active in Baton Rouge since the 1960s, we think it extremely important that all steps be taken to ascertain and  ensure equal and appropriate justice for all individuals.

“Though in Spain, the governor need only use modern telecommunications to authorize someone to act on her behalf.”

“Cynthia DeMarcus Manson, President Baton Rouge Council on Human Relations

Baton Rouge

 

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Additional Actions in Baton Rouge on the Jena Six Case

In collaboration with the Bienville House Center for Peace and Justice and the Baton Rouge Council on Human Relations, a community meeting at the Baranco-Clark YMCA on the Jena Six was hastily arranged, with over 50 members of the Baton Rouge community attending. Patricia Haynes-Smith spoke about what had happened in this case.  A series of action items was proposed and adopted, with two primary goals:  first, to overcome widespread ignorance of the details of the case, and second, to express solidarity with Jena Six by traveling to Jena for the national protest on September 20 and by organizing a local solidarity rally.

Members of the action committee addressed the first goal in various ways.  First, a researched and footnoted chronology of the events in Jena was produced by members and distributed to the group.  A set of talking points followed, so that everyone talking about the events in Jena would tell the same story and stay on message.  Next, members held a meeting with the editorial board of The Advocate, Baton Rouge’s largest newspaper.  The board agreed to produce original local coverage of the events in Jena as well as the public events information and solidarity events held throughout Baton Rouge.  To further inform the public, the Bienville House Center for Peace and Justice sponsored the well-attended “A Community Dialogue on the Jena Six.”  The Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge and University Presbyterian Church co-sponsored a candlelight prayer vigil entitled “Prayers for Peace and Justice in Jena,” which drew more than one hundred community members brightening Dalrymple Drive near LSU.

In addition, members networked with students at Southern University, LSU, and the NAACP who were also working to inform people about and demonstrate support for the Jena 6.  Students at Southern, led by the Student Government Association and Iota Phi Theta service fraternity, were particularly active, holding “Jena Week.” This included an information forum, a prayer vigil, and a march around the campus.  In conjunction with the Legislative Black Caucus, Southern and Southern Law students organized 5 buses to Jena.  LSU students, led by Shanelle Matthews, a journalism senior and student activist, chartered 2 buses to Jena and held an information forum at LSU.

Two members of the LCHR Board went to Jena in connection with the Jena Six.  John Mikell went the day before the September 20 rally.  He found that the locals did not want to talk to him; he was an “outsider,” and they felt besieged by outsiders.  Joe Dennis, LCHR President, went to the September 20 rally; he reported that the rally was non-violent–as planned.

Meanwhile, a member of the Unitarian Church, Bob Dorroh, chartered a bus that carried UCBR congregants, LSU students, and other community members to Jena on for the rally on September 20 that had originally been planned to coincide with Mychal Bell’s sentencing.  While many folks went to Jena on September 20, a small cadre of citizens also worked to plan a small rally in support of the Jena Six at the steps of the state capitol, which went off without a hitch.

After the initial flurry of activity around the Jena Six story, activity definitely, even necessarily, slowed in Baton Rouge.  The Jena Six are not

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out of the woods yet, however.  Mychal Bell, having been freed on bond, is back in jail for probation violation in what has been by some as retaliation by Jena DA Reed Walters and District Judge J.P. Mauffrey for the heavy scrutiny on their actions related to this case.  A November 7 hearing produced no surprises, although Bryant Purvis was finally arraigned in the Jena Six case.  The charges on all of the young men have been reduced from attempted second degree murder to aggravated second degree assault and conspiracy to commit the same.  These young men face decades in prison if convicted.

Support for the Jena Six is still needed.  The Jena Six Legal Defense Fund has nearly been depleted, and there could be years of litigation ahead if the young men’s cases go to trial.  In addition, motions have been filed by media organizations seeking to unseal the now-secret proceedings of Mychal Bell’s legal battle, his being dealt with in juvenile court.  Motions described by Friends of Justice executive director as “state of the art” have been filed on behalf of all the young men asking for a change of venue and the recusal of Walters and Mauffrey from their cases.  In addition, political pressure to investigate the actions of Reed Walters should still be exerted on powerful statewide officials such as the attorney general and governor.  Stay tuned for additional opportunities to provide support for the Jena Six as their fight for equity continues. 

On November 11, the Chicago Tribune ran a news story to the effect that a controversy was growing over the accounting and disbursing of at least $500,000 donated to pay for the legal defense of the Jena Six.  The parents of the teenagers strongly deny that they have misused any of the donated money.  ColorofChange, a national civil rights organization which Editor Burns supports, has fully disclosed how the $212,000 it collected for the Jena 6 by means of an Internet campaign has been distributed.

Along with other civil rights activists, on October 29 Burns wrote a letter to the Office of Disciplinary Counsel in Baton Rouge, requesting an investigation into the conduct of District Attorney Reed Walters in the Jena Six case.  Shown below is the letter:

Office of Disciplinary Counsel

4000 S. Sherwood Forest Blvd., Suite 607

Baton Rouge, LA, 70816

(225) 293-3900

To Whom It May Concern:

I am writing to request an investigation into the conduct of LaSalle Parish District Attorney Reed Walters over the last year with regards to several incidents, culminating with the prosecution of Mychal Bell, Robert Bailey, Bryant Purvis, Theo Shaw, Carwin Jones, and an unidentified minor.  I am concerned that DA Walters has selectively and aggressively used his prosecutorial discretion in several cases over the last year and I believe he is unable to be an effective and impartial advocate for justice in LaSalle Parish.
In a statement published in a New York Times op-ed on September 26, 2007 that now appears on the Louisiana District Attorney Association website, Walters describes his role as District Attorney as one where he has to "...match the facts [of a case] to any applicable laws and seek justice for those who have been harmed. " What Walters ignores in this definition is the tremendous latitude prosecutors have to raise, lower, or dismiss charges as they see fit, under the doctrine of prosecutorial discretion.  It has become clear that when Reed Walters is making decisions, white perpetrators in Jena receive a completely different kind of discretion than black ones.
When it came to prosecuting three white students for hanging nooses in the so called "white tree" at Jena High

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School after black students sat under it, Walters said (in the same New York Times op-ed) this act "broke no law. I searched the Louisiana criminal code for a crime that I could prosecute. There is none." But Louisiana Revised                                     

Statute 14:107.2 creates a hate crime for any institutional vandalism or criminal trespass motivated by race.   His discretion, not Louisiana law, is what led to a lack of charges in this case.

Similar discretion was applied after an incident on December 1, 2006.  A black teenager, Robert Bailey, was attacked by a group of whites, beaten to the ground, and apparently hit with a beer bottle.  Bailey suffered a gash to his head, and Walters could have prosecuted the group of whites with felony charges. Instead, Walters charged one man with a misdemeanor, but that person served no prison time. The others walked.

A very different and more dangerous form of discretion was applied three days later, when an assault on Justin Barker, a white student, occurred. Robert Bailey and five other black teens were arrested and charged by the police with aggravated second-degree battery, a very harsh charge under the circumstances. But Walters went even further and used his discretion on December 7th to increase the charges to attempted murder, later arguing that the students’ tennis shoes were dangerous weapons.

A week later, Walters announced that he would try Mychal Bell for attempted murder as an adult, another example of his discretion being aggressively used to bring harsh punishments only to certain young people.  When Walters reduced the charges against Bell, he should also have taken the case back to juvenile court.  His failure to do so is another example of an inappropriate application of discretion.  The result was a conviction that could have ended with a 22-year prison sentence. The 3rd Circuit Court has already ruled that Walters' decision was improper, and nullified the decision.

Walters' misconduct extends beyond these instances of uneven application of his discretion.  After black students staged a sit-in under the contested tree to protest the light punishment for the noose hangers, Walters came to Jena High School and told the student body that if they did not settle down, "[he could] make [their] lives disappear with a stroke of [his] pen. "  This statement was confirmed by Walters during Mychal Bell's court proceedings, and clearly connects to the actions he took after Justin Barker was assaulted.

Walters' threats against the Jena 6 defendants were not limited to the school assembly. In December 13, 2006, he published a statement in The Jena Times reading in part "I will not tolerate this type of behavior.  To those who act in this manner, I tell you that you will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and with the harshest crimes that the facts justify. When you are convicted, I will seek the maximum penalty allowed by law. I will see to it that you never again menace the students at any school in this parish." There are clear problems with his public characterization, prior to any trials, of the young men who had been arrested for the assault on Justin Barker as criminals who had been menacing the school. The wording of the statement and an introduction associating his tirade with the "recent two incidents at Jena High School" created the impression that those accused of involvement in the fight were also suspected of setting the November 30th, school fire. The Louisiana Rules of Professional Conduct 3.6(a) clearly state that: "A lawyer who is participating or has participated in the investigation or litigation of a matter shall not make an extrajudicial statement that the lawyer knows or reasonably should know will be disseminated by means of public communication and will have a substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing an adjudicative proceeding in the matter."  His statements to The Jena Times clearly violate this code.It seems clear from my knowledge of this case that there are ample grounds to conduct a timely and thorough investigation into Reed Walters’ conduct as District Attorney of LaSalle Parish. If you choose not to investigate DA Walters, I expect to receive a written explanation of why you deem that an investigation is not warranted. Otherwise, I look forward to hearing the results.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

Paul Y. Burns, 333 Lee Dr., Apt. 255, Baton Rouge, LA 70808

 

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The behavior of this LaSalle Parish D.A. reminds me of the behavior of Sargent Pitcher, a strong segregationist who was elected D.A. of East Baton Rouge Parish a few years after I came to Baton Rouge in 1955 from Missouri.  Pitcher & his helpers campaigned by riding around the parish in a sound truck playing “Dixie” & waiving a Confederate Battle Flag.   He made it clear to voters that he would maintain racial segregation. He, and indeed the entire EBR Parish legal system, had one kind of justice for whites ,and another, much harsher, for blacks. 

News about Human Relations Council Members  

                Dr. Robert Reich, a long-time BRCHR member and retired landscape architecture professor at LSU, was honored in October by having the LSU School of Landscape Architecture as the Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture.  Congratulations to my fried Bob!  I have known and admired him since I first met him 52 years ago.

                Dr. Samuel P. Meyers passed away Nov. 2, 2007 at the age of 82.  He was a world-renowned and much admired LSU professor in the departments of Food Science and Marine Science.  He retired in 1997.  Besides being my friends, Sam and his wife Gertrude (Trudi) were longtime supporters of the BRCHR.  Trudi served on the BRCHR Board of Directors many years ago, and she was awarded the Council’s humanitarian award in 2005.  She and their daughter Susan and sons Stephen, Benjamin, and David are survivors.  A memorial service is planned for the Unitarian Church in Baton Rouge on Friday, November 30, 7 p.m.  In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge, specifying Sam Meyers Memorial, 8470 Goodwood Blvd., Baton Rouge 70806; or the National Parkinson Foundation.

                Dr. Paul Y. Burns was honored November 10 by being received into the Hall of Fame of the LSU School of Renewable Natural Resources.  Burns was Director of the School when it was the School of Forestry and Wildlife Management, from 1955 through 1976.  He was a teacher and researcher at this School from 1955 to 1986 and is now Professor Emeritus.  Burns joined the Baton Rouge Council on Human Relations in 1965, two months after it was started, and served the BRCHR in many capacities, including Board Chairman, Secretary, and Newsletter Editor.  He has been an LCHR Board member since 1967, serving for two years as President.  Currently, besides being Interim Newsletter Editor for this issue, he is Assistant Treasurer of LCHR.

                John Valery White was named the new dean of the Boyd School of Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, effective July 1, 1007.  White has been serving as law professor at LSU.  The son of Morris Overton White and Doris White, longtime member of the LCHR Board of Directors and teacher at Southern University in Baton Rouge, John in recent years has been a member of the LCHR Board.

                Lorna Bourg, New Iberia, was honored in September by the Louisiana Environmental Action Network.  She is executive director of the Southern Mutual Help Association, which for many years has been considered by LCHR to be a sister organization.  She was recognized for her work with rural communities and housing development.

            Supreme Court Justice Revius O. Ortique, Jr., retired, New Orleans, was a guest last April of the Southern University Law Center, where his long career was celebrated.  A civil rights activist, Judge Ortique was president of the Community Relations Council, New Orleans, which was an LCHR chapter in the 1960s. He received his law degree in 1956 from Southern University, and in 1992 became the first African-American elected to the Louisiana Supreme Court.  He has received many honors, including being named as a Distinguished Alumnus of the S.U. Law Center.

                                                                                                                                                                                         

Current Composition of BRCHR Officers and Board of Directors   

                Cynthia DeMarcos Manson, President; Glorious Wright, Vice-President; Patrice  Niquille, Corresponding   

Secretary; Richard Haymaker, Membership Secretary; Bridget Udoh, Treasurer; Marjorie Green, Immediate Past President.     Other Board members: Nathan Gottfried, George F. Lundy, S.J., Robert Thompson, Laurabeth Hicks,  Harry Hoffman, Valerie Jackson Jones, Eileen Shieber,  Thelma Deamer.

 

 

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Local Public TV Station Plans Program about Race Relations in South Baton Rouge

              LPB’s Dorothy Kendrick is doing an excellent job on a documentary describing the work which blacks did in Old South Baton Rouge to provide a place to swim–Brooks Park–in the 1940s through the 1960s.  Old South Baton Rouge, formerly known as “South Baton Rouge,” lies between LSU and the central city.  Brooks Park in Old South Baton Rouge  is unique in that in the 1940s, when BREC, Baton Rouge’s recreation and parks department, provided no place for African-Americans to swim, the South Baton Rouge African-Americans raised money and built a swimming pool; there were no other pools open to blacks.  The location is only a few hundred yards west of City Park, which had a pool open to whites only, and which later was filled in with dirt. The Rev. W.K. Brooks led in the formation in 1945 of the United Negro Recreational Association of E.B.R. Parish.  After the association built and operated a swimming pool, black children had a place to go for swimming.  BREC took over management of  the pool after a few years. Judge Trudy White, now president of the Association, told BREC recently when it threatened to close all its swimming pools that some of BREC’s pools, such as the Brooks Park pool, are monuments to the civil-rights struggle in Baton Rouge.  A new cooperative agreement in 2007 with the YMCA has made the pools even more popular.  BREC operates pools in Webb Park, Banister Park, and Jefferson Highway; the YMCA operates pools in three inner-city parks: Gus Young, Brooks, and Howell.   

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