Dionne Wilson’s husband, police officer Dan Niemi, was killed on duty in 2005. Wilson blames the broken justice system, born of the drug war and its tactics of mass incarceration, for his death.
Niemi was sent to investigate a noise complaint, and found a young man in possession of drugs and two handguns. The 23-year-old had been imprisoned several times already on drug charges, and was on probation. Desperate not to be sent back to jail, he shot Niemi down.
Now, ten years later, Wilson is an advocate for justice reform. She spoke at Wednesday’s bipartisan Fair Justice summit it Washington, D.C., which featured lawmakers like Rand Paul (R-Ken.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont).
Californians for Safety and Justice member Dionne Wilson speaking about criminal justice reform. #cut_50 #FairJustice pic.twitter.com/lGOcOi6y8L— cut50 (@cut_50) July 22, 2015
There, according to Reason’s report, she captured the crowd with her tragic story.
"I don't think that anyone can tell me that had we invested in people over prisons, my husband wouldn't be here today." Rather than talk about prisoner reentry—how to help those who've spent time in jail or prison reacclimate to the world outside—Wilson said she wants to talk about "no entry," i.e., "that people never enter the system, that we stop feeding this system of mass incarceration. Stop punishing people for self-medicating trauma with drugs and alcohol, stop punishing people for mental illness." Theses policies don't work, Wilson concluded. "The promise of public safety has not helped."
She also praised California's Prop 47, which reduced penalties for nonviolent property and drug crimes, saying, "I can't help but think how my life would be different, and my children's lives would be different... had we passed Proposition 47 years before."
Reform advocates frequently highlight the damage the justice system has done to those incarcerated and their families--Wilson's story is a rare but powerful reminder that the same system has negative consequences for both sides of law enforcement.