Five Bullets, One Gun, and the Struggle to Save an American Neighborhood
An award-winning journalist’s dramatic account of a shooting that shook a community to its core, with important implications for the future
On the last Friday evening of the summer of 2013, five shots rang out in the parking lot of a new Boys & Girls Club in a part of northeast Denver known as the Holly. Long a destination for African American families fleeing the Jim Crow South, the Holly had become an “invisible city” within a historically white metropolis. While shootings weren’t uncommon, the identity of the shooter that night came as a shock. Terrance Roberts was a revered activist. His attempts to bring peace to his community had won the accolades of both his neighbors and the state’s most important power brokers. Why had he just fired a gun?
In The Holly, the award-winning journalist Julian Rubinstein, who grew up in Denver, reconstructs the events leading up to the fateful confrontation that left a local gang member paralyzed and Terrance Roberts on trial, facing a life in prison. Much more than the story of a shooting, The Holly is a multigenerational crime story that explores the porous boundaries between a city’s elites and its most disadvantaged citizens, as well as the fraught interactions of police, confidential informants, activists, gang members, and ex-gang members trying—or not—to put their pasts behind them. It shows how well-intentioned urban renewal may hasten gentrification, and what happens when overzealous policing collides with gang members who conceive of themselves as defenders, however imperfect, of a neighborhood.
In the era of Black Lives Matter and urgent debates about the future of policing, Rubinstein offers a nuanced and humane illumination of what’s at stake.
Praise For The Holly: Five Bullets, One Gun, and the Struggle to Save an American Neighborhood…
"Rubinstein . . . has constructed a shattering piece of investigative journalism involving street gangs, race relations, and law enforcement . . . This is a gripping deep dive into media underreporting and too-quick judgment, and, most shockingly, into how the criminal-justice industrial complex may be invested in systemic corruption designed to keep drug wars going. Dramatic and wrenching." —Connie Fletcher, Booklist (starred review)
"[A] haunting story . . . In a multigenerational saga that builds toward a suspenseful courtroom drama centered on [a] trial for assault and attempted murder, Rubinstein—who lives in Denver—creates a historical palimpsest that sets its events against the backdrop of broad social and political changes . . . The author offers especially sharp and well-developed scrutiny of the use of active gang members as confidential police informants . . . [An] important book." —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"This vivid story of redemption and loss offers profound insights into the forces that plague America’s inner cities." —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Julian Rubinstein dives deep beneath the deafening sound of a gun shot to reveal the layers of violence that America reaps on its inner cities. Through the compelling life story of Terrance 'ShowBizz' Roberts, the Apostle Paul of Park Hill, The Holly forces us to bear witness to a series of underground wars in the invisible parts of our cities that have been left to die for too long. Rubinstein just wanted to 'pay attention' to his hometown’s gang violence but uncovered a rich and tragic history of gangsterism that connects the street corner with the courthouse and the boardroom. This gripping story of political collusion, murder, and redemption is a page turner with a propulsive weight of urgency." —Davarian L. Baldwin, author of In the Shadow of the Ivory Tower: How Universities are Plundering Our Cities and Chicago's New Negroes
"Seldom have I encountered a feat of storytelling as memorable or richly textured as The Holly. With the utmost skill and empathy, Julian Rubinstein weaves together the absorbing tales of a city roiled by breakneck growth and a man determined to elude the ghosts of his destructive past. The result is a book that poignantly illuminates the joys and pitfalls of reinvention in America, a country forever struggling to live up to its mighty promise." —Brendan I. Koerner, author of The Skies Belong to Us and Now the Hell Will Start
"Every city has a parallel society that many residents choose not to see. Julian Rubinstein digs deep into what he calls the 'invisible Denver' of his hometown to find astounding cross-currents of trouble, heroism and love. Only through his careful reporting could the redevelopment of a shopping center resemble a Colorado mining boom and the leadup to a ribbon-cutting at a Boys and Girls Club assume the drumbeats of a march to the executioner." —Tom Zoellner, author of Island on Fire: The Revolt That Ended Slavery in the British Empire and The National Road: Dispatches from a Changing America
“If you, like others, have wondered about the connections between the end of the civil rights/Black Power movements and the onset of America’s gang war, or whether activists who oppose gentrification and racist policies are the targets of informants, this book is mandatory reading. My father, the head of the Denver Black Panthers, was persecuted for his advocacy in his time in a way not unlike the way Terrance Roberts is now, with deadly consequences. The Holly is a decades-long crime thriller straight outta the shadows of invisible Denver, an unforgettable tale you won’t hear in the mainstream media and a riveting wake-up call to activists, community organizers, and criminal justice advocates.” —H-Soul Ashemu, Denver community activist and Chief Visionary Officer for the Righteous Rage Institute and Power of Soul Ltd.
"Don’t let the snow-capped backdrop of the Rocky Mountains fool you. In The Holly, Julian Rubinstein reveals Denver, Colorado to be a crucible of so much that’s wrong in America: the chasms of race and class that divide the nation; corrupt policing; systemic discrimination. This story of struggle spans the era of the Black Panthers to Black Lives Matter. Law enforcement is after the hero of this book—Terrance Roberts—in a drama brought to life by Rubinstein's fearless reporting." —Dale Maharidge, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of And Their Children After Them
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 9780374168919, 400pp.
Publication Date: May 11, 2021