Michelle Kane should not have had to die before her case was taken for the deadly threat it was.
She followed the directions of lawyers and police and undertook every legal remedy available to a woman being terrorized by a violent and enraged husband. She filed a restraining order; she reported his threats and violence to the police, repeatedly; finally, when it seemed she would get no protection from the escalating threats, she took her two small children and fled the family house.
It wasn't enough, though, because on Saturday morning Michael Kane allegedly made good on his threats. Witnesses and police say he tracked Michelle to friends' house, chased her down the street with a knife like a horror-movie monster, and then stabbed her so many times and with such ferocity that she died quickly.
This is a terrible story but, sadly, not uncommon. Although the incidence of domestic violence is happily declining nationwide, women are still killed by their spouses and partners in alarming numbers. During the announcement in March of the Domestic Violence Homicide Prevention Initiative, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said: "On average, three women are murdered every day in this country by a boyfriend, husband or ex-husband." That's more than 1,000 people killed a year — or to put it much more starkly, the equivalent of a full 777 airplane crashing every four months.
A domestic death threat is clearly no empty threat. This one certainly wasn't. On the day before her murder, Michelle virtually begged police for help in what appears to have been an escalating situation. She went to the police station twice, saying her husband had violated his restraining order and threatened to kill her. She called later to report someone had broken the windows in her house.
It's not clear how Los Angeles Police Department officers interacted with Michael Kane. Though he appeared not to have been arrested before Monday, the police did have contact with him. The extent of this will be made clear when the case goes to court.
The LAPD receives tens of thousands of calls each year related to domestic violence and can't protect all the women and men victimized by their partners. Fair enough. But there has to be something more that we as a society can do to give authorities and courts the power to arrest and prosecute people before they make good on intentions to harm.
Except, there already is: California Penal Code 422. The law says, "Any person who willfully threatens to commit a crime which will result in death or great bodily injury to another person, with the specific intent that the statement, made verbally, in writing, or by means of an electronic communication device ... causes that person reasonably to be in sustained fear for his or her own safety or for his or her immediate family's safety, shall be punished by imprisonment in the county jail not to exceed one year, or by imprisonment in the state prison."
Michelle clearly felt this to be a grave and imminent threat. She reported that her husband said he was going to have her "whacked" or "beheaded." Why this wasn't enough for Michael Kane to be arrested before Saturday morning is something that police will have to explain.
Death threats are a basis for arrest. Just as one example, this week a warrant was issued for a California man who tweeted that he wanted to "personally blow (the) head off" Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Ariz. The man later said he opposed the Arizona sheriff's famously controversial stance on illegal immigration. Maybe that was a credible threat and not the unwise commentary of a political foe, but it wasn't any more credible than what Michelle reported.
The solution should not have to be that the women of the world have to go buy a gun and hope it doesn't get used on them in the process of defending themselves. Michelle Kane did everything right. She followed the rules, but she still died.
That's unacceptable. Lawmakers and law enforcement leaders need to make domestic death threats a priority and treat them like the crimes they are.