Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A Special Dedication to Leonard Morgenbesser

An edited version of this dedication is due to appear in the seventh edition of Eric Hickey's Serial Murderers and Their Victims:

In the wake of recent tragedies, instances of gun violence command national attention. Leonard Morgenbesser categorized the use of handguns as conflict resolution tools to be a threat to public health, a stance that preceded our collective response of outrage. Leonard considered injuries and homicides wrought by these recurring incidents to be at epidemic levels and characterized the reliance on such weapons as a disease whose devastation fractures communities.

As a social scientist, Leonard addressed this issue by tracking gun-related crimes perpetrated in his city of Albany and amassing an exhaustive list of these events. He chose to combat this scourge empirically by compiling information gathered from newspaper reports and television newscasts, instilling in others that something was being done about a seemingly hopeless plight.

After meeting at a conference, I detailed my own efforts to catalog serial murderers and became known to Leonard as “the data guy”. Now, realizing the breadth of his collection endeavors, this label constitutes the ultimate compliment.

Leonard taught me that data should be not only accurate, but actionable. Armed with statistics, Leonard advocated for Albany to be a SNUG program pilot city and helped to secure funding for this critical anti-violence initiative. A member of Albany’s Gun Violence Task Force, Leonard is credited with saving lives through his ceaseless, epidemiological approach.

To come to a greater understanding of serially violent criminals, we co-founded the ‘Multidisciplinary Collaborative on Sexual Homicide and Violence’. Leonard’s unwavering encouragement infused our cause with gravitas, inspiring all involved to work cohesively.

The impact of Leonard’s passing is still being measured, more than a year later. While Leonard’s legacy is the tenacity and persistence he dedicated to raising awareness about gun violence, his sponsorship and facilitation of innovative collaborations must be recognized. Without Leonard’s guidance and foresight, our group would surely not have coalesced.

Leonard possessed qualities I strive to emulate in my quest to utilize data for good. Perhaps our connection arose because Leonard saw in me some aspect of himself. Moving forward, I implore that we all reflect introspectively and embrace that facet of Leonard that exists within ourselves.