Documentary Film Review ‘Hold Your Fire’

By: 
Ben Miles

Was it the 1971 Attica Prison Rebellion? Was it the 1972 New York bank robbery and hostage situation, which inspired the Al Pacino-starring classic crime movie “Dog Day Afternoon”? Or was it the 1973 botched robbery of a Brooklyn sporting goods store that changed policing approaches in circumstances involving perpetrators who hold hostages as bargaining chips?

According to a new documentary film, “Hold Your Fire,” directed by Stefan Forbes — it is the latter incendiary incident, which left one police officer dead and one of the robbers with a near fatal gut wound — that provoked changes in police procedures that shifted official policy from military-like aggression to communication and negotiation.

Using a term coined as “dynamic inactivity,” Harvey Schlossberg, an NYPD patrol officer, who had also earned a Ph.D. in psychology became the first systematic hostage negotiator; the strategy Schlossberg employed was one of de-escalation, encouraging the perpetrators to put their plans away and engage in dialogue.

Headed-up by Shu’ aib Raheem, a quartet of Black youth — all male — attempted to rob the sporting goods store of firearms to protect themselves from Nation of Islam adherents, whose members had been targeting Sunni Muslims for attack.

Law enforcement, however, presumed that the foursome were associated with the radical Black Liberation Army and sought to intervene by surrounding the store with overwhelming force; this resulted in a 47-hour face-off between the police and the perpetrators, with hostages caught in the middle of the feud.

Through news clips, photo stills and vintage film footage, we view the pandemonium inherent in this big city crime caper. Chaos appears to prevail even as progressive Police Commissioner Patrick Murphy and popular New York City Mayor John Lindsay seek to address the dire circumstance.

And though the negotiating approach used by Schlossberg is currently employed as standard practice by law enforcement agencies, police officers who were involved in that would-be heist that turned into a desperate hostage situation still feel that confronting deadly force with deadly force is the most effective approach in such situations.

Only subsequent to the protestations of community members, demonstrably objecting to the NYPD driving an Army tank through the store, were Schlossberg‘s dialogue and de-escalation strategies employed.

So, what finally ended the confrontation? The “talk therapy” tactics and techniques used by Schlossberg? Or the threat of armored warfare against the robbers? Perhaps the resolution, if not the solution to these types of crimes, lie in a more community, communicative and proactive approach to policing. Fighting fire with fire only seems to combust into more fire.

What: “Hold Your Fire,” a documentary film review (93 minutes)

How: Check local movie theater listings; also, On-Demand

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