To Protect and Unnerve

It's not easy being Bob Holley. Though slowed by a clubfoot, the 55-year-old Perrine resident keeps buckets of paint, brushes, rollers and extensions, and a change of clothes in his van so he can stop and paint over graffiti on his way home from work. A full-time technical writer at Florida International University, Holley devotes about twenty hours a week to tidying up his South Dade community, monitoring neighbors for code violations, and laying a dragnet for lawbreakers. On mobile patrol he's equipped with two truncheons, a cell phone, and, when he feels the need, a .357 Magnum revolver. He is the chairman of the Colonial North Crime Watch, a member of the board of directors of the Fairways Estates Homeowners Association, and a District Four representative to the Metro-Dade Police Department's Citizens Advisory Committee.

"I don't know where he gets all the time. He's painting, mowing lawns, planting trees. God bless him, he's done a lot in this community," marvels Steven Cranman, a member of the Perrine-Cutler Ridge Council, an economic development association.

"I'm a graffiti guerrilla. I just can't stand looking at the stuff; it just bugs the heck out of me," says Holley, whose father was a cartoonist for Esquire and later a commercial artist on Madison Avenue. "I still appreciate good art," Holley adds, explaining that it's sometimes painful for him to bring himself to paint over particularly creative graffiti.

This past month, Citizens Crime Watch of Dade County, a volunteer group that serves as the civilian eyes and ears of the police, designated Holley its Crime Watcher of the Year, honoring him over nominees from each of Metro-Dade's nine police precincts. Particularly notable were Holley's tireless endeavors to curb graffiti and his assistance that led to last year's bust of the DEED graffiti posse, which had been responsible for thousands of dollars' worth of vandalism in South Dade.

Not everyone appreciates Holley's ideas. Two years ago, after he led a petition drive to compel the county to assign one police officer per five hundred homes in his community, Metro commissioners rejected the proposal. (According to Holley's calculations, the augmentation would have cost each homeowner twelve dollars a month.)

There are more overt signs, too. Carved on trees, spray-painted in burglarized houses, and screamed by passersby as Holley pumps gas at his neighborhood self-serve is this unambiguous message: "Fuck Bob Holley!"

And then there was the letter Holley got a few weeks ago from attorney Milton Hirsch. The lawyer had been hired by the parents of three boys, ages sixteen to seventeen, whom police arrested last year for repeated acts of graffiti vandalism. Holley had assisted Metro-Dade's graffiti unit during that investigation and continues to bird-dog the boys, alleging that they violate the county's curfew, drink alcoholic beverages, and spray-paint. "Please be advised that if you do not entirely discontinue your campaign of stalking and traducing the above-named children," Hirsch wrote, "I will seek any and all legal remedies provided by the civil justice system, and will also refer this matter to the Office of the State Attorney for criminal prosecution."

Hirsch declines to comment about the matter, other than to say that he fully expects Holley to heed his warning.

He admits, though, that he's not familiar with his adversary's resume.
Holley and his wife bought their house on SW 105th Avenue in 1976. "When we moved here, it was kept very nicely," he remembers. "Then in the Eighties, things began to go -- the burglars sent everybody out." In 1986 Holley went on the offensive, after his ten-speed was stolen from his garage. He printed a thousand posters showing the bike and offering a $60 reward. A tip led him to an apartment building on SW 184th Street, where he was told that his bike was being used to transport crack cocaine in the West Perrine neighborhood. Ignoring the police, who suggested he give up, Holley cruised the area for a couple of weeks and finally spotted his bike in the hands of a group of hoodlums. He promptly displayed his poster and offered them the reward. When the boys began arguing among themselves, he popped the trunk of his Honda Civic wagon, loaded up the bike, and hauled off.

"I still have nightmares about that," Holley confides. "They came into my neighborhood, and I went into theirs and stole it back. It proved something to me spiritually: You don't have to put up with this shit. You can do something about it."

Burglars laid siege to Holley's garage again in the summer of 1991, stealing $400 worth of tools. He responded by helping to found his neighborhood's Crime Watch group the following January. When Hurricane Andrew flipped South Dade later that year, the new group was put to the test as thieves feasted on the spoils. That was when Holley began buckling a .357 to his side. "This place was like Vietnam," he says.

Holley wasn't armed on the May day in 1993 when a dozen youths pelted him and his car with rocks after he berated them for disturbing rubbish he was neatly piling up at a bus stop. "I was being coolly critical, if you know what I mean," recalls Holley. "I told them, 'I come up here minding my own business to clean up a bus stop, and then you act like a bunch of animals.' It was unbelievable. They got hostile and started yelling, 'Fuck you! Who are you?'"

Subsequent run-ins were more daunting. One August evening Holley saw a disheveled man standing in the middle of South Dixie Highway. As he watched, the man landed a ferocious kick to the driver's door of a passing Audi. Holley yelled at the man, then tried to dial 911 on his cell phone as the man bore down on him. Rather than drive away, Holley unstrapped his gun, stepped out of his Civic, and fired a warning shot in the air. When the man kept charging, Holley says, he fired three more times but missed. A fifth shot wounded the attacker. Holley was detained by police but released when the man declined to press charges. "Everybody tells me I should have killed him," Holley comments in retrospect.

Five weeks later, two blocks from his house, Holley fired again. He'd been driving slowly behind three teens who were walking along the street and whom he suspected were car thieves. The youths suddenly converged on his car, one of them wielding a handgun. Holley got out and fired three shots over the roof of his station wagon. He missed.

He has never been arrested, but on two occasions police have confiscated his gun. Each time, he says, he purchased another one. He also considered calling the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Rifle Association to file a complaint. "I blew my stack [a few times] and the police thought I was developing a violent personality," says Holley, who likens himself to the Bruce Willis character in the action movie Die Hard. "I'm McClane," he explains, "but McClane can shoot straight."

Metro-Dade police can't confirm Holley's accounts of the shootings, but Perrine-Cutler Ridge precinct lieutenant Eloy Nu*ez, who praises Holley's energy and leadership, concedes, "If he says he did it, he did it."

To represent him in the matter of the three graffitists and their peeved parents, Holley has retained Ellis Rubin. The famed defense attorney declines to discuss specifics but says that in the event his client is sued, "we're going to run with it."

Holley's words are a smidgen stronger. "If they file a goddamn lawsuit, they're going to be looking at both barrels," he vows. "I'm going to squash those people if it's the last thing I do."

He and Rubin are organizing a June 26 press conference to call attention to "the crime wave" in South Dade. They're also thinking about suing the county for failing to adequately serve and protect.

"If we had the police protection from our government that we pay taxes for, I'd be home watching TV," Holley asserts. "I'm not some kind of damn hot dog.


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