One can imagine how some Ferguson residents would conclude that they have no form of influence except taking to the streets each night. Yet given the passionate mobilization that is taking place each day, it is realistic to imagine the protesters successfully ousting the whole leadership structure of the city. Even observers who are critical of the street activism following Michael Brown's killing agree that Ferguson's leaders have been egregiously incompetent in their response. They've clearly lost the confidence of the people they represent, and only in part because, as the New York Times puts it, "Although about two-thirds of Ferguson residents are black, its mayor and five of its six City Council members are white. Only three of the town’s 53 police officers are black."
The most potent and direct method for addressing this disparity—the ballot box—has gone unused, so far. "Turnout for local elections in Ferguson has been poor. The mayor, James W. Knowles III, noted his disappointment with the turnout—about 12 percent—in the most recent mayoral election," the Times adds. "Patricia Bynes, a black woman who is the Democratic committeewoman for the Ferguson area, said the lack of black involvement in local government was partly the result of the black population’s being more transient in small municipalities and less attached to them." What better opportunity to change that unfortunate pattern? This is a historic failure of leadership. Recalls were created for moments like this one.
So recall the mayor. Recall the city council. Elect new officials who will fire the police chief. Success is not guaranteed, but it is quite plausible and perhaps even likely. The whole lot of them could be tossed out.
My reading of the relevant Missouri law suggests the legal requirements could be met easily. Incompetence is grounds for recall. If city leaders in Ferguson don't now qualify as incompetents, who ever would? And as a Daily Kos author noted days ago, "Petitions must include the signatures of 25% of registered voters, which should not be too hard to do at this point." That would trigger a recall election. Turnout would presumably be high. Many blacks have been disenfranchised due to past convictions and attempts by GOP state legislators to depress voter turnout, but with this momentum, that obstacle isn't insurmountable.
A successful recall of Ferguson's mayor and city council is the best outcome I can imagine from a protest movement that is justifiably angry, but uncertain about how to achieve its goals and at risk of losing public support if the streets turn more violent. Protesters want transparency in the investigation into Brown's death, accountability for the police department, and an end to leadership that demonstrates such disregard and seeming contempt for the city's black people. Perhaps existing pressure on city leaders, or appeals already made to the Department of Justice, will help advance those goals—but while more night protests would seem to offer scant hope for additional gains, replacing the city's elected leadership would advance the protesters' goals directly and dramatically. The effort would be nonviolent, it might well increase civic participation for years or even generations to come, and if successful, it would send an inspiring message to those who feel powerless: that a system very much stacked against them is still a far more powerful weapon than a molotov cocktail.