Hold Your Fire
In 2021 Stanley Nelson's outstanding documentary Attica looked back fifty years to America's largest prison revolt and the devastating consequences of the resulting law-enforcement stand-off. One year later, director Stefan Forbes (Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story) chronicles another, lesser-known incident on its fiftieth anniversary. Hold Your Fire uses the same powerful blend of excellent archival footage and compellingly frank interviews with surviving participants to tell the story of the longest hostage siege in NYPD history. Four young Black men attempted to steal guns from a Brooklyn sporting goods store that was quickly surrounded by the police. With hostages inside and neighborhood crowds outside, this multi-day incident had the potential to become another example of an escalating confrontation ending in mass slaughter, like the Attica uprising, the “Munich massacre” attack during the 1972 Summer Olympics in Germany, and the “Dog Day Afternoon” robbery and hostage-taking at a Brooklyn bank, also in 1972.

The NYPD's 130-year-old policy was to respond to hostage situations with deadly force. But this time, perhaps because of the highly publicized prior disastrous incidents, cooler heads prevailed. A respected African-American lieutenant named Benjamin Ward and a nebbishy Jewish detective with a degree in psychology named Harvey Schlossberg convinced their superiors to negotiate with the criminals. As Forbes's film demonstrates with clarity and nuance, things didn't go down smoothly, but this extended confrontation did not result in the bloodbath and community disruption of the prior stand-offs, and we witness how contemporary hostage negotiation was essentially invented in real time during this incident. 

Structured like a thriller, the story is told by those who lived through it, including hostages, gunmen, and police officers. The film starts off with the astonishingly candid and insightful owner of the sporting goods store, Jerry Riccio. He's an astute and articulate old-school New York character with plenty of critique and compassion for both the robbers who threatened his life and the cops who made things worse. Through these and many other gripping interviews, we learn why the four men were stealing guns in the first place—and how ill conceived their "plan" was. And we hear how the rage and PTSD of many NYPD officers led to, and enhanced. their shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later culture. 

Perspectives on the events differ depending on who's speaking, and by letting every participant tell their unvarnished side of the story; Forbes paints an astonishingly detailed picture of this fifty-year-old event. It informs and provides important context for the current debates about American policing. While the 85-year-old Schlossberg, who died while the film was in production, is not a major character, his presence is felt throughout the documentary footage. Without Schlossberg having to verbalize it, this film begs the question as to why his proven techniques and tactics, which have been adopted by the FBI, aren't widely taught in police academies. There could not be a better time than now for a film on the art of de-escalation.

Twitter Capsule:
Riveting and insightful documentary about the 50-year-old incident that birthed modern hostage negotiation techniques told candidly with nuance by those who lived through the longest hostage siege in NYPD history.

Directed by Stefan Forbes
Produced by Fab 5 Freddy, Amir Soltani, and Tia Wou

Written by Stefan Forbes

With: Shuaib Raheem

Cinematography: Stefan Forbes
Editing: Stefan Forbes
Music: Jonathan Sanford

Runtime: 93 min
Release Date: 20 May 2022
Aspect Ratio: 1.85 : 1