The Holly: Five bullets, one gun and the Struggle to Save an American Neighborhood
by Julian Rubinstein
There are two Denvers. There’s the Denver of booming housing prices, legal marijuana and highly-educated Patagonia wearers. And then there’s a second Denver, invisible to those living outside of it. A Denver of underinvestment, of displacement and of decades-long gang warfare. In his explosive new book The Holly, reporter Julian Rubinstein takes
readers inside the invisible Denver to follow the wreckage that gang life has imposed on northeast Denver for generations. The book centers on former Blood gang member turned anti-gang and racial justice activist Terrance Roberts, who was arrested in 2013 after shooting a gang member at what was supposed to be a peace rally during the opening of a Boys & Girls Club at Holly Square. Roberts claimed he was shooting in self-defense and believed that he was the victim of a misinformation campaign alleging he was “snitching” to the police that put a target on his back. In a quest to find answers, Rubenstein moved back to Denver and followed Roberts and other residents of Denver’s northeast Park Hill neighborhood for years. What he discovered could rival any true-crime program.
The book is a veritable who’s-who of Denver’s power players, and many people come off looking poorly. The Holly details how politicians, philanthropists, law enforcement and the media have all failed to invest in or accurately represent the majority-Black northeast Park Hill neighborhood for decades. A particularly harsh light is shone on the Denver Police Department’s anti-gang efforts, which Rubenstein alleges recruited active gang members in ways that only stoked more fear, violence and distrust among the community. He also paints a clannish picture of the state’s majority-white political and philanthropic class, which Roberts believed used him to gain clout in the neighborhood he fought so hard for before ultimately discarding him.
The Holly takes a long view of history, and provides valuable context about Denver’s political and racial divides that aren’t easily inferred from breaking news headlines. The book starts by describing how Black residents first settled Five Points and Park Hill during the Great Migration, how the Denver Black Panthers and other activists fought for civil rights and were targeted by COINTELPRO in the 1960s and 70s, and how gangs originally from Los Angeles sprouted up in the city in the 1980s and 90s. It ends with the massive protests that swept Denver and Aurora in 2020 in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd and Elijah McClain and the police response (Roberts was one of a group of people given felony charges for a July protest at the Aurora police station, his charges were later dropped by the incoming Adams County District Attorney).
In The Holly, the arc of history is long but it remains to be seen just which way it will bend. One thing is clear: invisible Denver is a little less invisible now, and those who would prefer to keep it hidden will have more work to do.
— Carina Julig is a staff writer at Sentinel Colorado.