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].

By Michael Barajas:

Russell Johnson with his family.
Criminal Justice

Death in Solitary

Russell Johnson’s sister warned officials that nearly three years in solitary confinement had broken him. His suicide in isolation two months later points to compounded crises inside Texas prisons.

Russell Johnson’s sister warned officials that nearly three years in solitary confinement had broken him. His suicide in isolation two months later points to compounded crises inside Texas prisons. * by Michael Barajas October 9, 2019 On April 28, Tambra … Read More

A drag queen story time event in San José.
Fringe Factor, News, The Issue

Anti-LGBTQ Activist Tracy Shannon Shuts Down Drag Queen Story Times Across Texas

“They made it look like we were planning a peep show for kids. It would have just been a grandma dressing up and reading to kids on her time off.”

With the far right ascendant in Texas politics, once-marginal ideas and people have found a place in the political mainstream. Our Fringe Factor series is an introduction to the often-unknown, but influential activists, thinkers and operatives who play a growing … Read More

Crystal Mason
Civil Rights, News

The Casualties of Texas’ War on Voter Fraud

Crystal Mason’s vote didn’t count. Will her prosecution scare away others whose votes would?

In early February 2017, Crystal Mason’s probation officer asked her to come to the federal building in downtown Fort Worth. The meeting was unusual—maybe a surprise drug test, she thought—but Mason wasn’t too worried. She’d rebuilt her life after serving … Read More

Civil Rights, News

The Death of Mobile Polling Places Could Shrink Early Voting in Texas

Thanks to a new state law, rural and elderly voters are among those who could lose their early polling places next election.

The Texas Legislature never seems to pass up a chance to make voting harder, scarier, or more confusing. True to form, Texas was one of several states this year that restricted—rather than expanded—access to the polls. HB 1888, which Governor … Read More

Civil Rights, News

Texas Schools Suspended Students Between Pre-K and Second Grade More than 70,000 Times in a Year

Black boys, foster care kids, and special ed students were disproportionately suspended, according to a new report from Texans Care for Children.

While racial disparities are a hallmark of the criminal justice system, a growing body of research shows that bias and unequal punishment start as early as pre-kindergarten.  A new report from Texans Care for Children underscores the problem. The advocacy … Read More

Beatrice Sanders now lives in a home elevated six feet off the ground in Port Arthur's Montrose neighborhood.

Two Years After Hurricane Harvey, Port Arthur Remains in Disaster Recovery Limbo

The storm-ravaged coastal city is trying to move some people out of harm’s way while begging others to return.

Two years after Hurricane Harvey hit, Beatrice Sanders sat on the raised deck of her new home in Port Arthur, telling me that God had answered her prayers. Last fall, government contractors finally tore down the three-bedroom house Sanders bought … Read More

Civil Rights, News, Political Intelligence, The Issue

Texas (Kinda, Sorta) Accidentally Decriminalized Weed. Now What?

How harshly you’re punished for pot possession depends on where you’re caught, even more so now that a new law legalizing hemp has sowed confusion.

Texas lawmakers like to declare themselves leaders on criminal justice reform, but this session they mostly did nothing about it. During the 86th Texas Legislature, a barrage of misinformation from police groups killed bipartisan efforts to reform Texas’ marijuana laws, … Read More

An El Paso family bring flowers to the makeshift memorial for the victims of the mass shooting in El Paso

White Terror on the Border

After an anti-immigrant shooting in El Paso, Texas’ GOP leaders blamed mental health and video games rather than gun laws and white supremacy.

On Sunday morning, less than 24 hours after a white gunman killed 20 people and injured two dozen more at an El Paso Walmart, Fox News called on Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick to help make sense of the bloodshed. … Read More

ice, houston, immigration
Criminal Justice

‘A Watershed Moment’ for Bail Reform in Harris County

Advocates for criminal justice reform say this week’s settlement in Harris County’s bail lawsuit could reverberate far beyond Texas.

Bail reform isn’t a particularly controversial plank of the broader movement to end mass incarceration. In fact, it was a Republican jurist, Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht, who in 2017 warned the GOP-dominated Legislature that strict bail policies … Read More