Michael Barajas

Michael Barajas is a staff writer covering civil rights for the Observer. Before joining the Observer, he was editor of the San Antonio Current and managing editor of the Houston Press. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. You can reach him on Twitter or at [email protected].
 

Locked Out

by | Mon, May 18, 2020 at 8:00 am CST
The W. F. Ramsey Unit in Brazoria County.
Criminal Justice

How COVID-19 Upended Texas Prisons

While prison officials insist they’re doing their best in the face of an unprecedented crisis, Governor Greg Abbott has effectively ignored the pandemic inside the Texas prison system.

How COVID-19 Upended Texas Prisons While prison officials insist they’re doing their best in the face of an unprecedented crisis, Governor Greg Abbott has mostly ignored the pandemic inside the Texas prison system. By Michael Barajas May 13, 2020 Two … Read More

Part of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's William G. McConnell Unit in Beeville, Texas, stands at sunset Wednesday, April 15, 2020. More than 26,000 people have been locked down in 22 Texas prisons that are keeping prisoners in their cells in an effort to contain the coronavirus, according to the TDCJ's most recent numbers. The McConnell Unit is not one of the 22. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Criminal Justice

Texas Health Officials Undercount COVID-19 Cases by Excluding Some Prisoners Who Tested Positive

The Observer identified at least nine Texas counties where current prison cases make up more than 10 percent of the total COVID-19 cases in the county.

COVID-19 cases have skyrocketed in Texas prisons in recent weeks, with the virus infecting and killing incarcerated people and staff, and likely spreading into nearby communities through the thousands of workers who travel back and forth each day. Yet some … Read More

Police arrest Occupy Austin protesters outside Austin City Hall in 2011.
Civil Rights, News

For Austin Police, Claims of Racism Are Only the Tip of the Iceberg

An investigation into allegations of racism against a former top cop points to deeper problems of bias and retaliation at the Austin Police Department.

In December, following the abrupt resignation of an assistant police chief accused of using racial slurs on the job, Austin’s city council launched an investigation to be conducted by San Antonio lawyer Lisa Tatum to determine whether higher-ups at the … Read More

Texas Politics

Texas Had a State Office That Could Have Investigated Racial Disparities in COVID-19 Cases. Lawmakers Defunded it Three Years Ago.

While early reports elsewhere show African Americans disproportionately infected and dying from COVID-19, Texas’ data is incomplete.

In 2005, faced with data showing that black and Native American families were overrepresented in Texas’ child welfare system, lawmakers ordered Child Protective Services (CPS) to study whether staff treated any racial or ethnic groups more harshly than others. The … Read More

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announces the US Army Corps of Engineers and the state are putting up a 250-bed field hospital at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in downtown Dallas during a news conference at the Texas State Capitol in Austin, Sunday, March 29, 2020. For the COVID-19 update and announcement, the Governor was joined by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Brigadier General Paul Owen (left) and Texas Division of Emergency Management Chief Nim Kidd. (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News via AP, Pool)
Criminal Justice

Greg Abbott’s Power Grab on Bail Reform

Abbott’s executive order blocking jail releases during a pandemic highlights conservative opposition to the growing movement to end wealth-based detention in Texas.

On March 26, 15 people incarcerated in the massive jail looming over Buffalo Bayou in downtown Houston wrote a joint letter predicting a “catastrophic outbreak” of the novel coronavirus if officials didn’t act fast to lower the inmate population. The … Read More

State Representative Gene Wu speaking at an event.
News

Gene Wu on Coronavirus and the Rise in Hate-Fueled Attacks Against Asian Americans

How comments from Trump, Cruz, and Cornyn inflame deep-seated prejudices against Asian Americans, further alienating them.

Jose L. Gomez, a 19-year-old charged with three counts of attempted capital murder, allegedly wanted to kill an Asian American family that included two young children because he thought they were Chinese and “infecting people with coronavirus.”  A recent FBI … Read More

Criminal Justice

Families of Sick Prisoners Plead for Compassionate Release as Coronavirus Spreads Behind Bars in Texas

Advocates for incarcerated people are urging Governor Abbott to release parole-eligible people who are elderly or have chronic illnesses.

Justin Phillips’ health started deteriorating soon after police arrested him on drug charges in 2016. He grew gravely ill while waiting for his court date at the Smith County jail in Tyler, and doctors diagnosed him with kidney disease. Now, … Read More

bexar county jail
Criminal Justice

Some Texas Officials Want to Divert People from Jail Amid Coronavirus Scare

Fearing spread of coronavirus, some sheriffs are calling on police to stop arresting and jailing people on low-level charges—a step reformers have been pushing for years.

Last week, as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Texas rose, Collin County Sheriff Jim Skinner urged local police to think twice about who they arrest and bring to his jail.  In his letter to local law enforcement officials, … Read More

The line to vote at 9:25 p.m. at Texas Southern University.
Civil Rights, News

An ‘Election Meltdown’ in Texas

How voter suppression, poor planning, incendiary rhetoric, and fear of coronavirus could erode public confidence in elections.

Primary voters in some parts of Texas waited in punishingly long lines to cast a ballot last Tuesday. A surge in Democratic voter turnout overwhelmed many polling places on university campuses, as well as other locations serving communities of color … Read More

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