Stefan Forbes, director of “Hold Your Fire”, in a documentary on Police Siege

Stefan Forbes’ gripping new documentary “Hold Your Fire,” details a tense standoff between police and four young African-American men at a sporting goods store in Brooklyn, NY. As the Forbes film explores, those of racism, police brutality and gun violence remain extremely urgent. Although Forbes conceived the documentary years ago, it took on added resonance in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the wave of social activism that hit the country in the summer of 2020.

But what is most surprising about “Hold Your Fire” is that it presents an unlikely hero in Harvey Schlossberg, a Freudian psychoanalyst who helped write the book on conflict resolution as an officer of the New York police. It is Schlossberg who manages to convince his fellow trigger-happy officers to engage with the hostage takers, preventing a tragic situation from escalating into a bloody disaster.

“He got to see the situation in more depth,” says Forbes. “He understood that at the heart of this conflict were four frightened young men. Cops love bad guys. Harvey looked beyond the labels to see the need for communication. I hope Harvey’s post resonates with viewers and helps us think about how we are solving the problems in this county.

“Hold Your Fire” is set in the aftermath of the Attica prison riot and the Brooklyn bank robbery in 1972 which then inspired “Dog Day Afternoon”. Tensions were high and the city felt like it was on the verge of institutional collapse.

Initially, in the case of the sporting goods store stalemate, things escalated quickly. A botched robbery had turned into a shootout that left an NYPD officer dead and nearly a dozen people held hostage. Yet Schlossberg, using cutting-edge techniques at the time, was able to establish a line of communication with the hostage takers that led to their peaceful surrender. The impasse, which spans 47 hours, is the longest siege in the history of the department. Forbes said he was drawn to the Schlossberg story because he was such an unlikely reformer.

“Harvey, this 99-pound Jewish pacifist cop was able to step into an authoritarian, top-down paramilitary organization made up largely of white Irish people and bring about change,” he says. “He was a man who was not afraid to cross barriers and listen to people. He didn’t see people as the enemy. There is a lot that can teach us in a fractured time that we are experiencing with the January 6 riot and the issues we have with the police. The radical empathy he represented 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 talked to him about not only releasing the film, but remaking it as a narrative feature.

Schlossberg would have a long and successful career both as a police officer, as a psychiatrist and as an academic. He coined the term “Stockholm Syndrome”, helped profile and catch the “Son of Sam” and provided a framework for hostage negotiation that still exists today. He died in May at the age of 85 before watching the Forbes film, for which he was interviewed at length.

“It’s tragic that he couldn’t see it, but his spirit is alive in every frame,” says Forbes.

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