“Hold Yours,” a new documentary by Stephen Forbes, details a heated altercation between police and four young African-American men at a sporting goods store in Brooklyn. Although the documentary was conceived many years ago by Forbes, it took on an additional resonance in the wake of the assassination of George Floyd and the wave of social activism that swept the country in the summer of 2020.
But the most striking thing about “Hold Your Fire” is that it presents an improbable hero, Harvey Schlossberg, a Freudian psychoanalyst who helped write the book on conflict resolution as an officer in the New York City Police Department. It is Schlossberg who persuades his trigger-happy fellow officers to engage with the hostages, preventing a tragic situation from turning into a bloody catastrophe.
“He was able to see the situation more deeply,” Forbes said. He realized there were four frightened young men at the center of the conflict. Police love a bad guy. Harvey looked beyond the label to see the need to communicate. This will help us think about how we will solve problems in the county.
“Hold Your Fire” was published after the Attica prison riots and the 1972 Brooklyn Bank robbery, which later inspired “Doug Day Afternoon”. Tensions were high and the city seemed to be on the brink of institutional collapse.
Initially, in the case of sports goods store stagnation, things were growing fast. A rogue robbery turned into a gunfight in which an NYPD officer was killed and about a dozen people were taken hostage. Nevertheless, Schlossberg, using the sophisticated tactics of the time, was able to establish a line of communication with the hostages, which led to their peaceful surrender. The stalemate, which lasted more than an hour, was the longest blockade in the department’s history. Forbes says he was attracted to Schlossberg’s story because he was an impossible reformer.
“Harvey, this pacifist, 99-pound Jewish beat policeman was able to move into an authoritarian, top-down paramilitary organization, consisting primarily of Irish whites and changing influence,” he says. “He was a man who was not afraid to cross barriers and listen to people. He did not see people as enemies. There are many things that can teach us in a broken moment that we are facing the problems we have with the January 6 riots and policing.” Representing fierce sympathy could be a model for this country.
“Hold Your Fire” premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, where its distribution rights were for sale. Forbes says the studios are talking with him about rebuilding it as a descriptive feature, not just releasing the film.
Schlossberg will pursue a long and distinguished career as a police officer, and as a psychiatrist and academic. He coined the term “Stockholm Syndrome”, helped profile and capture “Son of Sam” and provided a framework for hostage negotiations that still exists today. He died in May at the age of 85 before seeing Forbes photos, for which he was interviewed extensively.
Forbes says, “It’s a pity he didn’t see it, but his soul is alive in every frame.”