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Embattled Ferguson Mayor Faces Possible Recall

Five anonymous residents have filed a petition asking Mayor James Knowles to resign. If they get 15% of the city's registered voters to sign it, they could force a special election.

Last updated on March 14, 2015, at 1:21 a.m. ET

Posted on March 13, 2015, at 11:03 p.m. ET

http://J.B. Forbes/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS

Five residents of Ferguson, Missouri, filed a petition Friday asking Mayor James Knowles to resign, starting a legal process that could force a special election in the embattled city.

"We request that you resign from the position of Mayor of our city before the end of the day," the residents wrote in an open letter to Knowles and the City Council. "We cannot describe how disgusted we are with you."

The Ferguson City Charter allows residents to recall a mayor and force a special election if 15% of the town's registered voters sign the petition within 60 days.

Ferguson, the site of the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown last year, has been rocked by a renewed wave of protests after the Department of Justice released a report detailing widespread abuses against the city's black population.

The city manager and the police chief have both resigned in the wake of the report's release.

Though the marches have been largely peaceful, two police officers were shot during a demonstration earlier this week. Both are expected to survive.

In a statement, the residents behind the petition — who call themselves the "Ferguson Five" — said they want to remain anonymous.

Bob Hudgins, a self-described protester and candidate for a seat in the City Council, told BuzzFeed News that he has been aware of the mounting recall effort for some time now and is supportive due to what he described as Knowles' "general incompetence."

"Not only did I know about it but I was the first signatory,"Hudgins said. "I think he's a buffoon."

Hudgins, who said he is not one of the Ferguson Five, criticized Knowles for not understanding the situation after Brown's death, and for allowing the city to engage in practices — intense ticketing and court fines, for example — that the recent Justice Department report characterize as discriminatory.

"He's like Jackson," Hudgins said, referring to former Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson, who announced his resignation this week.

Though Hudgins was optimistic about the recall effort's odds of success, he added that Knowles is well-liked among some in the community and may now be "more entrenched than ever."

Brian Fletcher, a former mayor of Ferguson who is now running against Hudgins for a Ward 2 council seat, called the recall effort "a bunch of smoke." He told BuzzFeed News that the effort seems to be supported by protesters who "for the most part don't live in the city," and added that he believes Knowles should remain in office.

"The mayor is not going to resign," Fletcher said. "I don't think he should resign. He's done nothing wrong."

Fletcher said a petition in support of Knowles had been started and several hundred people have already signed it

"I think these are basically idle threats," Fletcher added of the recall.

Adrienne Hawkins is running for the open council seat in Ward One. After learning about the recall effort Friday, Hawkins said that she likes Knowles and believes he "loves his city." Still, she acknowledged that there have been problems.

"I would hate to see him go," Hawkins said, "but all of this happened on his watch."

Friday night was quiet outside the Ferguson Police Department, with no protests and plenty of rain. But two stalwarts of the protest movement welcomed the news of an effort to recall Knowles.

DeRay McKesson told BuzzFeed News that Knowles has "demonstrated time and time again that he's unfit to lead." And Tony Rice, who goes by the name @Search4Swag on Twitter, said people in Ferguson need "the ability to borrow [Knowles'] position's influence but he's not making any loans."

Knowles did not immediately respond to BuzzFeed News' request for comment Friday night.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.