Teamwork makes the dreamwork… or does it?

Picture this: One minute you’re on your way home from work, dozing off on the train. The next minute, you’re startled by the shouting of police officers yelling commands. Guns are being pointed in every direction, and every person on the train is a potential target. The passengers’ faces flicker with worry, the way the subway stops flicker when signifying a destination. Within minutes, the tranquil train is overcome with anxiety and dread.   

This very incident unfolded on the Lexington 4 train, as passengers witnessed a young boy being held at gunpoint. When police officers rushed onto the train brandishing weapons, passengers feared for their lives and quickly got out of their seats to huddle together. All except one. In the middle of this chaos, a young boy remained seated with his shaky hands held up over his head.

His name is Adrian Napier, a 19-year-old boy who was caught jumping a turnstile. When a group of officers approached him, Napier fled onto an incoming train. (Shepherd 2019). Unbeknownst to him, NYPD backup was called, and eventually 10-15 officers swarmed the train with guns pointing towards Napier and the other passengers. They tackled Napier and pushed him onto the ground, despite him being completely unarmed and compliant.

So, what happened? How did this small crime transform into something so deadly so quickly?

Deindividuation occurs in groups that foster responsiveness to group norms, whether good or bad. Police officers primarily share one goal: to enforce the law. However, when people are in bigger group settings, they tend to disregard personal views — such as the way to treat suspects — in order to focus on the goal at hand. When a large group of people work together as a singular unit, they might lose themselves, or lose a piece of who they are. 

According to Meyers (2018), “It is harder to imagine a single rock fan screaming deliriously at a private rock concert, or a single police officer beating a defenseless offender or suspect.” The same can be applied to police brutality: police officers may respond to their teammates’ abuse of authority by mirroring the same actions. This can lead to scary — and sometimes, life threatening — situations. They may disregard common protocol when they are in high stress situations Deindividuation and groupthink typically go hand in hand.  Groupthink is the practice by which group members disregard thinking for themselves, and are more concerned with group agreement. This tends to arise in situations that encourage conformity and high cohesiveness.In law enforcement, there is little to no time to think about the decisions you make before you make them. This can lead officers to hide personal concerns in order to maintain harmony and order.

When we make the decision to join groups — whether its becoming a student at a university, joining a club, or becoming an employee — we lose a piece of our identity. You are not just “you” anymore; you are another employee, another police officer, and this can take away from who you really are. In law enforcement, this can create a diffusion of responsibility, making officers not feel as guilty if they mistreat a suspect or criminal. Similarly, the actions within a police unit can influence the police officers and make them lose their sense of selves. This can result in officers who simply go along with following orders, even if those orders are not exactly moral, in order to enforce the law. The police officers were so engrossed in taking down this “criminal” that they forgot who he truly was: a teenage boy who couldn’t pay the $2.75 fare. 

I am in no way trying to defend Napier; I definitely believe that his actions warrant some form of consequence. At the same time, however, I believe that the police officers blew the situation entirely out of proportion. By becoming engrossed in enforcing the law, the police officers put many people’s lives in danger and struck fear into the hearts of people that they were trying so desperately to protect.

Myers, D. G., Twenge, J.M. (2018). Exploring Social Psychology (Eighth Ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Nehorai, E. (2019, October 25). In case you’re wondering how an arrest in NYC goes down. pic.twitter.com/dAstrtMntz. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/PopChassid/status/1187838293104304130?ref_src=twsrc^tfw|twcamp^tweetembed|twterm^1188139071316615169&ref_url=https://twitter.com/YoliZama/status/1188139071316615169.

Shepherd, K. (2019, October 29). Police filmed tackling and pointing guns at teenager who dodged £2 train fare. Retrieved from https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/new-york-police-subway-fare-dodging-guns-video-brooklyn-a9175556.html.

Azell Rodriguez

3 thoughts on “Teamwork makes the dreamwork… or does it?”

  1. Hi Azell,

    Thank you so much for opening up this door of discussion for our class! I found that the concepts you applied accurately portrayed the current even you chose, in that as an audience member I was able to understand your point of view on the situation. Your explanation of deindividuation helped me to understand that it is when a person abandons their own personal views and almost a piece of who they are, to fit in within a group setting and to conform to a norm. Your explanation of groupthink gave me the tools to realize that this is when a person ignores their own thoughts and agreement with themselves, for the sake of uniform agreement in a group setting.

    I also want to applaud you for speaking about such a controversial topic in our society right now. I am from Queens, therefore I am a regular user of the subway. With that being, I understand how much the subway fare can cost a person over time. Especially with the price now rising soon, it will become even harder. I just want to challenge a bit, your perspective about the consequences the victim in this situation should have faced. Personally, I feel as though this young man should not have faced any consequences. There are so many other dangers in Manhattan for the police to be on high alert about – terrorist threats, large crowds acting out of hand, suspicious packages, etc. A young man who hopped the train one time should not receive repercussions from the police force when there are way worse dangers in the city to be concerned about. However, that is your opinion and I do respect that and would love to know your own thoughts on my perspective!

    Another concept that I think would tie in here would be self-awareness. In this incident, when the young victim became aware that the police were raising their guns and targeting him, he put his hands up. In this way, he focused the attention on himself and became self-aware to what he knew he had done wrong, which was jumping the turnstile. Also by putting his hands up, he became self-aware of his own actions in that he became sensitive to them, realizing the situation he had caused. This then also showed his apologetic attitude for when he was caught, in that his hands were up and did not move or try to hide from the police.

    Thank you again for covering this current event! Great job!

    – Carmela Piccolo

  2. I found this as such an interesting way to tie in concepts that we talk about in class to real world events. The connection of the different roles of the people to the concept in which they were representing was very effective as well. Bringing up a topic that’s volatile like this and not picking a side is a difficult task , I think you reported as unbiased as you could and clinically analyzed the situation.

  3. Hi Azell.

    I found your topic to be very interesting, and I’m glad that you decided to write about this. This is still an ongoing topic that we as a society still hear about everyday, and I feel like it never get better for the victim. Yes the police are trying to keep others safe, but when you’re pointing a gun in a train with other passangers, it will bring fear to others, and it may hinder people from wanting to take the train.

    Another concept that would have went well this article is obediance because the other officers that were called for backup had to listen to the person who was calling them in. When in put in situations, you have to listen to the person who is in charge, and with being an officer, you are signing yourself up for being in dangerouse situations. Also obidence could have worked for Adrian because when officers are telling you to put your hands up, you have to listen to the authority. It comes to show that when someone is in a uniform, it comes to show the power they have against you.

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