Contingent presses consul for action following killing of St. Petersburg activist

When it comes to coping with extremist violence, a contingent of San Francisco Jews, police and prosecutors are urging Russia not to spare the rod.

A seven-member delegation met Friday, July 9, at the Russian Consulate in San Francisco with Deputy Consul General Yuri Bedjanian and his security chief, Vladimir Nebyvaev.

The group, led by Pnina Levermore, executive director of the Bay Area Council for Jewish Rescue and Renewal, urged Bedjanian to push for an official Russian condemnation of the June 19 murder of Nikolai Girenko, a leading St. Petersburg expert on extremism.

Throughout, the tone of the meeting was cordial, with participants airing their concerns over immaculately served tea, coffee and cookies.

Girenko was a longtime participant in the Bay Area Council’s Climate of Trust program, which brought delegations of Russian police officers, prosecutors and activists to the Bay Area for conferences on hate crimes and race relations and sent San Francisco police, prosecutors and activists to the former Soviet Union.

Rabbi Doug Kahn, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, urged the Russians to apprehend the killers quickly, or else allow “the poison to seep in.”

“From our vantage point, unless you deal with this in a forceful and swift way, you give a tremendous sense of victory to the hatemongers in society,” Kahn told Bedjanian, a short, courteous diplomat with an intense gaze.

“Here in San Francisco, the police departments have offered significant rewards to find perpetrators of [similar] crimes. That’s part of a forceful response.”

Both Bedjanian and Nebyvaev decried the St. Petersburg killing, with the deputy consul general noting that for Girenko to “be murdered in the daylight, it is not a thing we can accept in civil society.”

In addition to Levermore and Kahn, other members of the morning meeting included San Francisco Assistant District Attorney Jeff Ross, Deputy Chief of Police Morris Tabak, Lt. Daniel Mahoney and Inspector Sally DeHaven of the police department’s Special Investigation Division. Danny Grossman, a board member of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation and former diplomat stationed in Leningrad, also attended.

Ross expressed disappointment that a candidate running for a seat in the Duma from Russia’s extremist NDPR party publicly congratulated Girenko’s killers for ridding Russia of a “traitor” — and went unchallenged by the Russian government.

Bedjanian responded that “Russia is a young country, despite having such a long and very, very tragic history … All these people who are applauding the murder of Nikolai Girenko, I call them mad; sometimes I call them ill people. But this is a reality.”

The U.S. Department of State officially condemned Girenko’s murder July 8, and Levermore hopes this will lead to a similar statement from Russia.

She was less enthused, however, about the recent announcement that Russia has curtailed a supposed five-year program combating hate crimes several years early.

When she brought this up with Nebyvaev, he said that even though the federal program has been canceled, efforts against hate crimes continue, and that many of the programs were outmoded holdovers from the early 1990s.

Following the meeting, Levermore disputed that, saying the program was initiated in 2001. “I don’t attribute [the cancellation] to negative intentions, but, if nothing else, it sends a bad message.”

Levermore also disagreed with Nebyvaev’s assessment that Girenko was a friend and ally of the St. Petersburg law enforcement community, so police will be doubly motivated to catch his killers.

“There were those who considered Nikolai” — a non-Jew — “to be a Shabbos goy, a tool in the hands of a Jewish human rights group.”

Still, the meeting was viewed as a positive.

“I am reassured from what I heard today at the Russian Consulate and what I’m seeing in St. Petersburg that they are pursuing [the killers] vigorously,” said Tabak.

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.