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

The Sandra Bland Act Was Stripped of the Provision That Could’ve Prevented Her Arrest. Now It Has a Chance.

“I believe this is the legislative session that we come together, in bipartisan fashion, to pass a bill to prohibit this practice that can have life-altering consequences,” one lawmaker said.

On July 10, 2015, on a quiet road near Prairie View A&M University, a hot-headed state trooper stopped Sandra Bland for changing lanes without a turn signal. The simple traffic violation and Class C misdemeanor is supposed to be punishable … Read More


Congressional Democrats are Investigating Texas’ Targeting of Naturalized Citizen Voters

A congressional oversight committee is probing acting Secretary of State David Whitley’s flawed voter purge, as well as allegations of voter suppression in two other states.

Democrats in Congress are investigating Texas officials’ targeting of tens of thousands of naturalized citizen voters earlier this year. The investigation is part of a larger probe by the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform into allegations of voter … Read More

Criminal Justice

A Tale of Two Prison Systems

Scandals led to increased transparency for Texas’ juvenile lockups. When will lawmakers demand the same for the state’s adult prisons?

Early in the morning on February 22, Jeffrey Jelinski, a 58-year-old serving prison time for unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, died at the state’s LeBlanc Unit in Beaumont. A few days later, Jennifer Erschabek, executive director of the Texas … Read More


Civil Rights Groups Call ‘Election Integrity’ Bill a ‘Dangerous New Assault on Voting Rights in Texas’

A coalition of civil rights groups warns that SB 9 would “sharply escalate an ongoing campaign of voter suppression.”

A coalition of civil rights groups is warning that a new GOP bill winding its way through the Texas Legislature imposes substantial and unnecessary burdens on voters. Among other provisions, Senate Bill 9, an omnibus “election integrity” bill filed by … Read More

Criminal Justice

Texas Prison Reformers Demand Dignity for Incarcerated Women

Bills addressing the basic needs of incarcerated women bolster the larger call for reform in the state prison system this session.

Like four out of five women incarcerated by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Maggie Luna was a mother when she went to prison. And like most women in prison, Luna also served time for nonviolent offenses — in her … Read More


How Tea Partiers Fueled Texas’ Latest ‘Voter Fraud’ Freakout

Election-related crimes are rare, but activists like Aaron Harris have become both a legal and political weapon in Texas Republicans’ war on election fraud.

by Michael Barajas March 6, 2019 In August, a group of outraged conservative activists sent Governor Greg Abbott a letter that helped spark Texas’ latest voter-fraud scare. Signed by more than 100 tea party leaders across the state, the letter … Read More

travi scounty courthouse
Criminal Justice

Why Doesn’t Texas’ Most Liberal County Have a Public Defender?

Judges and an aggrieved defense bar are derailing talks to build a public defender’s office in Travis County.

Austin is the largest city in the country without a public defender’s office to help represent poor people accused of crimes. In Texas, the only other big city without one is Fort Worth. Despite Austin’s reputation as a leader on … Read More


Senate Republicans Back Secretary of State Despite ‘Ham-Handed’ Voter Purge

David Whitley’s advancement shows that Republicans will stand by any new efforts to police the vote, no matter the cost.

On Wednesday, a federal judge called acting Secretary of State David Whitley’s voter purge of alleged noncitizens a flawed solution in search of a problem, urging him to clean up his own mess. Less than 24 hours later, Republican senators … Read More

LGBT Rights

Christian Conservatives Bring Alarmist #BanTheBible Message to Texas Capitol

The religious right’s desperate new messaging strategy speaks to the shifting dynamics around LGBTQ equality at the Texas Legislature.

In hopes of protecting their religious right to discriminate against LGBTQ people, Texas conservatives have turned to a perplexing new message this legislative session: #BanTheBible. The hashtag, pushed nonstop for the past month by Jonathan Saenz, president of religious-right lobby … Read More