Five Bullets, one Gun, and the Struggle to Save an American Neighborhood
“A shattering piece of investigative journalism involving street gangs, race relations, and law enforcement… Dramatic and wrenching.”
* Starred review
Was Terrance Roberts, the former gang leader and co-leader of the Justice For Elijah McClain movement, attacked by police informants? THE HOLLY, Coming May 11 from #FSG (and doc-in-progress). More at https://t.co/OqxOnevjAE #JusticeForElijahMcClain @fsgbooks pic.twitter.com/HjuLXm3ffa— Julian Rubinstein (@julian_rubinste) April 21, 2021
May 11, 2021
6:30 pm MST
Tattered Cover, Denver
Launch event moderated by Donnie L. Betts, with guest Terrance Roberts. Check back for details and link for online viewing.
May 25, 2021
7:30 pm EST
Greenlight Bookstore, Brooklyn
In conversation with Alan Chin.
May 27, 2021
Books & Books, Miami
In conversation with Davarian Baldwin.
June 30, 2021
5:00 pm MST
Boulder Bookstore, Boulder
Five Bullets, One Gun, and the Struggle to Save an American Neighborhood
More Praise for The Holly
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
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
This vivid story of redemption and loss offers profound insights into the forces that plague America’s inner cities.
[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.
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
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, winner of the 2021 National Book Critics Circle Award
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
Holly Square, Denver
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.
Terrance Roberts circa 2011 at a Colorado Camo Movement event.
Denver Black Panther founder Lauren Watson and other Denver Panthers in 1968. (Denver Post)
Terrance, age 17, soon after being “put on” the hood as an official Blood, flashing gang signs, circa 1993.
Terrance in Colorado’s Fremont Correctional Facility in 2002 or 2003, serving a sentence for shooting at another Blood’s car. He had disavowed his gang membership and would be released in 2004.
Marshal Seufert, Terrance’s defense attorney, meets with his client in 2015. Terrance faced life in prison for shooting Hasan “Munch” Jones at his own peace rally.
Rev. Leon Kelly (left) and Gang unit captain Mike Calo (right) after Crips founder Mike Asberry’s murder leads the Crips to burn down the Holly Shopping Center, 2008. (Denver Post)
Terrance leads a march through the neighborhood after the Holly Shopping Center is burned down. (Denver Post)
Aaron Miripol, President and CEO of Urban Land Conservancy, which bought the Holly in 2009.
Ernestine Boyd, Terrance’s grandmother, in 2017. She fled an Arkansas plantation in 1955 and took a bus to Denver. In 1960, she was one of the first African Americans allowed to live in Northeast Park Hill, eventually opening A&A Fish, a popular soul food restaurant and gathering spot.
Terrance and his outreach workers, Bryan Butler and John “Qwest” Lewis, outside the Prodigal Son office. They worked under a federal Project Safe Neighborhoods grant. (Anthony Camera)
Terrance testifies at his trial, 2015.
Terrance was a co-leader of the Justice for Elijah McClain movement, which has garnered nearly 6 million signatures on Change.org and helped force an independent investigation into McClain’s death.
On September 17, 2020, Terrance was arrested for “inciting a riot” for his leadership of a protest at the Aurora police district 1 headquarters. He currently faces up to 3 years in prison and has vowed to go to trial.