“Dog Day Afternoon” is mentioned by one interviewee because it depicted one of the two prior New York instances where there were negotiations between police and the men holding hostages. The other instance was the Attica Uprising, which Stanley Nelson chronicled in the superb, Oscar-nominated documentary, “Attica.” Attica ended with a raid by police that resulted in the killing of hostages and prisoners alike. Coincidentally, this is what Al Pacino’s character refers to when he screams “Attica! Attica” in Lumet’s film. The prison’s name had become a battle cry against police brutality in an era where law enforcement emulated the macho posturing of onscreen cops like Joe Friday, Dirty Harry and the NYPD’s own Popeye Doyle.
At least 30 minutes go by before one of the sparingly used onscreen intertitles announces that an explanation for the crime is forthcoming. The words “Why We Were There” appear onscreen before we return to Shu’aib Raheem, leader of the botched robbery. He and his cohorts, Dawud A. Rahman, Yusef Abdallah Almussadig, and Salih Ali Abdullah were all in their 20’s when they attempted to illegally procure guns from at John and Al’s Sporting Goods store in Williamsburg, Brooklyn on January 19, 1973. They were all Sunni Muslims, a rival group of the Nation of Islam. When Raheem became critical of the NOI, he is subjected to threats of violence he believes is coming from them. The 1973 Hanafi Muslim massacre, which occurred the day before, convinced him that his family was marked for death. “Had he gone to Nassau County,” says one of the talking heads, “he could have gotten a legal gun there. He had no criminal record.”
Jerry Riccio was behind the counter at John and Al’s when Raheem and his crew entered. Riccio is the most colorful character in “Hold Your Fire,” a no-nonsense New Yorker whose recounting of his ordeal has all the marks of a true storyteller. While Raheem rivets us with his explanations, feelings, fears and remorse, Riccio provides an equally engrossing counterpoint describing how he managed to escape with the hostages. He also describes the men, repeatedly referring to Dawud Rahman as “the little guy” who doesn’t say much and seemed to be actively fighting his own guilty feelings. Rahman is also interviewed, and he seems as soft spoken as Riccio described. When Riccio discovers Rahman is still in jail, his surprising response is one of empathy and concern.