The Death of Michael Tyree & The Convictions of Three Correctional Officers: Unpacking How I Feel
Today, a jury found three Santa Clara County Correctional officers, Jereh Lubrin, Matthew Farris and Rafael Rodriguez, guilty of the jail murder of inmate Michael Tyree.
I don't know how and what to feel.
I welcome our community finally holding law enforcement accountable for the violence and indignity they levy upon the incarcerated, downtrodden and vulnerable among us. The convictions restore the humanity of Mr. Tyree and others caged, including my clients, in our country's jails and prisons, reminding us that the incarcerated are human beings, too.
This outcome shines a bright light into the darkness of our jails, exposing how our incarceration monster traumatizes, degrades and breaks our fellow human beings, often leaving them unrecognizable and irreparably damaged. Every minute of confinement grinding their souls, squeezing away their humanity.
This result, we hope, will ensure that Mr. Tyree didn't die in vain. We hope his death spurs reform, ignites a fire to reign in rogue cops, catalyzes change in how we incarcerate. In tragic irony, maybe Mr. Tyree's death will ensure that Mr. Lubrin, Mr. Farris and Mr. Rodriguez will be treated with dignity by correctional officers while incarcerated rather than with the depravity they imposed on Mr. Tyree.
That all said, I struggle to take joy in the verdicts. In Mr. Lubrin, Mr. Farris and Mr. Rodriguez, I see my clients, too. I don't see monsters. I see human beings who were children once. I see flawed mortals, groomed in a deeply embedded carceral culture of excessive force, who committed an inhumane, ugly, monstrous act. I don't just see their conduct; I want to know their context.
I cannot exalt these convictions when they mean these three officers, three human beings, will be sentenced to prison terms of 15 years to life. I cannot condone a system where Mr. Lubrin, Mr. Farris and Mr. Rodriguez's existences and circumstances prior to that day's events are irrelevant, where their future prospects and chance for redemption are ignored. Our society has decided that these men, like so many of my public defender like clients, are only fit for prison. The State of California has decreed that these men, just like the countless languishing in our prisons serving life sentences, are nothing more than their crimes.
I will not sanction our means and methodology of justice, where we have decided that life prison commitments are our best and only answer to crime. I don't celebrate this verdict with all the fibers of my being because I cannot validate our mass incarceration machine.
Rest in Peace, Michael Tyree.