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:

Criminal Justice

Texas’ Method for Funding Courts is a Colossal Waste of Time and Money

Criminal fines and fees, in addition to trapping poor people in a cycle of debt and incarceration, are an incredibly costly source of revenue for local governments, according to a new report.

Texas spends a fortune every year squeezing fines and fees out of criminal defendants. In 2017 alone, the state dumped at least $150 million into court and jail costs associated with absolving court debt. While local governments managed to recoup … Read More

A crowd gathers at the governor's mansion in downtown Austin on Saturday, November 9, 2019, at a rally for Rodney Reed.
Criminal Justice

The Movement to Free Rodney Reed Illustrates the Growing Unease Over Texas’ Use of the Death Penalty

Deafening calls to spare Rodney Reed’s life point to a larger distrust in Texas’ use of the death penalty and an erosion of confidence in the justice system that convicted him.

After an hourslong rally outside the governor’s mansion in downtown Austin on Saturday, hundreds of people chanting “Free Rodney Reed” briefly blocked streets around the Texas Capitol in an impromptu march led by the brother of the man the state … Read More

Alpha Thomas holds a sign outside the Frank Crowley Courthouse before the start of the murder trial of former Dallas police Officer Amber Guyger in downtown Dallas, Monday, Sept. 23, 2019. Guyger is on trial for shooting and killing her unarmed neighbor Botham Jean in the Dallas apartment building they both lived in. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
Criminal Justice

Dallas Is What Happens When People Can’t Trust Police

Botham Jean’s death led to greater community oversight of the Dallas Police Department. Amber Guyger’s murder trial last month shows why that’s necessary.

On Tuesday night, when activists tried to speak at the first gathering of Dallas’ newly revamped Community Police Oversight Board, police broke up the crowd, grabbing and shoving people who demanded to be heard. According to the Dallas Morning News, … Read More

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