Hold Your Fire (2021) Poster

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let's talk
ferguson-619 May 2022
Greetings again from the darkness. Common sense tells us that attempting to resolve conflict by talking through the issue is far superior to jumping right into violence or other extreme measures. Of course we all know that common sense doesn't always win, and it certainly didn't in 1973 when four young Black Muslims attempted to steal guns from a Brooklyn store called John & Al Sports. It's been 50 years since the incident, but director Stefan Forbes allows some of the key players to give their perspective and recount the unfolding of events.

It was not a good plan. In fact, it was barely a plan at all. Shu'aib Raheem was 23 years old and living in fear in his own community. Cops were slow to respond to calls in his neighborhood, so he wanted protection for himself, his family, and his friends. He was joined by fellow twenty-somethings Dawud Rahman, Salih Abdullah, and Mussidia in waltzing into the store and loading a bag with guns. We know this because Raheem is one of the many interesting interviews conducted. We hear from others including police officers that were on the scene that night, the owner of the store, Raheem's cohort Dawud Rahman, and hostages that were detained. This event became the longest hostage situation in New York City history.

It's the hostage element that brings us to one of the most important developments of the event. Heroes come in all shapes and sizes, and looking back, the hero was a Jewish intellectual named Harvey Schlossberg. Harvey passed away after giving his interview for the film, and he is the man credited with starting hostage negotiations, and was later instrumental in the capture of Son of Sam. It's inconceivable to think one of the first responses from the cops was to fire into the front of the store despite knowing full well hostages were present. Raheem recalls never even being offered a chance to safely surrender.

Surely one of the things that will stand out to anyone watching this is the blatant racism expressed by the cops all these years later. They admit to assuming the four burglars were part of the Black Liberation Army, and proceeded accordingly. However, these four were really average locals with jobs and families, looking for a way to feel safe. This division between the cops and the neighborhood locals was clearly an issue, and seems all too familiar even today. This is not to defend the criminal act of these four men, but it does highlight how law enforcement can escalate, rather than de-escalate a situation. These four deserved to go to jail, but the actions of the police force dragged the situation out, further endangering the hostages.

Thanks to Schlossberg's approach, this standoff became known as 'the birthplace of hostage negotiation.' He spearheaded the advancement of training for conflict resolution and de-escalation. This was a significant cultural shift within the New York Police Department, and the cops we hear from (some with disturbing views on race) make that very clear. One of the interviewed (former) officers says, "we over-define racism as something bad." I re-played this part to make sure I heard it correctly, and then paused it to try and understand.

This was a chaotic scene and when it was over, one cop had been killed. Director Forbes has accumulated an impressive array of archival footage and photos to go with the insightful interviews. It's fascinating to hear the conflicting recollections, but it seems clear that aggressive action was not the best strategy in this case. At times this feels similar to DOG DAY AFTERNOON, but the images are real, not dramatized. We can only hope training continues and law enforcement consistently reacts in a way to de-escalate criminal situations. The stress is indescribable, but the reward for talking before shooting can be saved lives.
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"Hold Your Fire" written by Gregory Mann
"Hold Your Fire"

Brooklyn, 1973. When Shu'aib Raheem and his friends attempted to steal guns for self-defense, it sparked the longest hostage siege in NYPD history. NYPD psychologist Harvey Schlossberg fought to avert a bloodbath, reform police methods, and save the lives of hostages, police, and the four young Muslim men at the heart of the conflict. The documentary is as tense as any New York thriller Sidney Lumet might have directed. Revisiting a landmark crime from the Brooklyn of 1973, he brings history vividly alive with the testimonies of those originally caught in the crossfire. It's the story of a botched robbery, a murdered policeman, a media scrum and a hostage situation that seemed unlikely to end well. The film creates a Rashomon-style narrative, challenging lazy assertions and revealing deep-rooted prejudices.

Shu'aib Raheem works as a Trauma Support Consultant. He previously served as the Program Coordinator for the Brownsville Arches Transformative Mentoring Program for criminal justice-involved children and families. He's the founder of the Jawala Scouts Leardership Training Program. He currently serves on the board of The Fortune Society. Harvey Schlossberg is an NYPD officer, Freudian psychoanalyst, and the founder of modern crisis negotiation. He founded the Psychological Services department in the NYPD, where he pioneered treatment for violence-prone police. In the Handbook of Police Psychology, Schlossberg is called a 'father of modern police psychology' for his role in changing the tactics police employed in hostage situations.

When we first learned about Harvey Schlossberg we were amazed to discover a maverick, pacifist, intellectual cop with a Ph. D. in psychology teaching radical empathy to the police. Harvey played a key role in the longest hostage siege in NYPD history. It took place in 1973 Brooklyn, the home of French Connection, Serpico, and Dog Day Afternoon. We discover that this harrowing ordeal is the origin story of modern hostage negotiation, and that Schlossberg's teachings provide hope for repairing America's broken methods of policing. Throughout the killings of Michael Brown, Ahmed Arbery, Brionna Taylor, George Floyd, and countless others, we dismayed to learn that most policemen aren't trained in Harvey's defuse and de-escalate approach. This has to change. America tends to glorify macho guys adept at violence, such as heavyweight boxers and Special Forces Ops.

We'd like to glorify a 99-pound intellectual police psychologist who upended traditional notions of masculinity and police use of violence. In the words of NYPD Captain Al Baker, who was initially skeptical of Schlossberg. It was a revolutionary. We started to transcend street justice. It's an internal strength, the opposite of the eternal, explosive strength. That's true manhood. Violence is a weakness. There are challenging and disturbing interviews in "Hold Your Fire". They help spark the messy, difficult, and honest discussions America needs to have around policing and criminal justice. We've come to think of our nation as a dysfunctional family, full of love and compassion along with conflict, trauma, false narratives and toxic denial. As the spectre of coming political violence looms over America, can we hold this family together? Can we follow Harvey's lead and listen deeply to each other even as we strongly disagree? Can we absorb the truth that violence is a weakness and learn to hold our fire? The future of our multicultural democracy may well depend on it.

Written by Gregory Mann.
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Talking to one another can be more powerful than a gun.
imseeg26 May 2022
Dog Day Afternoon and The French Connection and many other movies of the late sixties and early seventies painted a picture of rogue New York City cops, who were eager to kill.

This documentary portrays the TWO sides of a hostage situation, wherein a group of African-American youngsters got stuck between a rock and a hard place, when they tried to rob a gun store, but found themselves surrounded by hundreds of cops and didnt dare to come out afraid of being killed on the spot.

In the mayhem of the hostage situation that ensued, in which a cop got killed, the cops wanted to storm the store with a tank.

A psychologist police officer persuaded the head of police to TALK to the criminals inside, because TALKING CAN BE MORE POWERFUL IN PERSUASION THAN A GUN (or a tank). Yes sir, indeed...

A brilliant detailed and intimate portrait of all the people involved (criminals, police, hostages) in that 2 day long standoff between police and hostage takers.

I am impressed. Fascinating portrait of another era. Chilling lesson.
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Powerful and timely statement in a gripping story
timrobertnyc7 June 2022
This well-paced documentary brings the story of "the birthplace of hostage negotiation" to life in a way that is compelling, nerve-wracking and thought-provoking. Told strictly in the words of those involved, it colorfully depicts an intense two-day standoff in 1973 between NYC police and four young African American men who hold up a sporting good store in an attempt to obtain guns, ironically for self-protection. Things go wrong and a hostage crisis ensues. By interviewing participants from all sides, the film drives deeply into mindsets and attitudes, gradually opens into broader ideas behind conflict resolution, and ultimately builds a strong argument for understanding and empathy in a world fraught with enmity.
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