On the last evening of summer in 2013, five shots rang out in a part of northeast Denver known as the Holly. Long a destination for African American families fleeing the Jim Crow South, the area had become an 'invisible city' within a historically white metropolis. While shootings there weren't uncommon, the identity of the shooter that night came as a shock. Terrance Roberts was a revered anti-gang 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 Denver-based journalist Julian Rubinstein reconstructs the events that left a local gang member paralyzed and Roberts facing the possibility of life in prison. Much more than a crime story, The Holly is a multigenerational saga of race and politics that runs from the civil rights movement to Black Lives Matter. With a cast that includes billionaires, elected officials, cops, developers, and street kids, the book explores the porous boundaries between a city's elites and its most disadvantaged citizens.
... rich research and extensive reporting ... It’s clear that Rubinstein tried to be sensitive to the relationships he built with Roberts and his sources, but at times his ideas about the Holly from his upbringing spill into his prose ... He acknowledges the racism of the police and the unjust economic structures that shape the Holly and other local institutions, but occasionally he ends up reinforcing the notion of the Holly as somehow other than the rest of Denver ... Throughout his book, he uses the word 'invisible' to mean neglected or ignored, but in doing so he fails to confront what exactly is not being seen and why and by whom...For the gentrifying whites who began moving into the areas surrounding the Holly in the early 2000s, Black people are not invisible at all. In fact, their visibility causes their new white neighbors to appeal for more policing. Indifference and invisibility are not one and the same ... by exposing the state surveillance, the crooked policing, the structural racism, the broken promises and the poverty that had plagued the Holly for decades, he helps us realize that the problem of violence is far greater than two men and one gun.
Rubinstein, whose work has appeared in the New Yorker, Rolling Stone, and the New York Times Magazine, and whose Ballad of the Whiskey Robber (2004) was a finalist for the Edgar Award in Best Fact Crime, 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.