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].
After police in Austin shot “less-lethal” munitions at protesters in early June, injuring several people including a pregnant woman, a 16-year-old boy, and a 20-year-old college student who is expected to suffer serious brain damage, there were deafening calls for the firing of Austin Police Chief Brian Manley.
Civil Rights, News

The ‘Culture of Violence’ Inside Austin’s Police Academy

Recent audits of the city’s cadet training spotlight a warrior-cop culture that pervades policing, even in a so-called progressive city.

An averted tragedy first made Summer Spisak consider the drastic career change that landed her in Austin’s police training academy. A police officer, she says, “literally saved my family member’s life, essentially by talking them down from committing suicide.” Around … Read More

Criminal Justice

Exploring the Rise, Fall, and Lingering Trauma of the Death Penalty in Texas

In his new book, journalist Maurice Chammah ties Texas' embrace of capital punishment to the state's frontier mythos.

From the January/February 2021 issue. Dalton Coble didn’t know his grandfather particularly well, but stories of Billie Wayne Coble have cast a shadow over his family since before he was born. In August 1989, Billie murdered his estranged wife’s parents and … Read More

Telford prison, New Boston, Texas.
Criminal Justice

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

COVID-19 has increased separation and isolation at a time of crisis for incarcerated people and their families.

Justin Phillips didn’t have much of a relationship left with his 5-year-old son by the time he was sentenced to 10 years in prison on drug charges in 2016. “I hadn’t seen him in a long time; I’d been out … Read More

Eric Fagan
Criminal Justice

Fort Bend County Will Soon Have Its First Black Sheriff Since Reconstruction

Eric Fagan, elected during a larger national reckoning on race and law enforcement, will lead an office that has been under fire for racial profiling.

Walter Moses Burton was 21 years old and living in slavery when he arrived to Texas in 1850. The wealthy white planter who enslaved Burton also taught him to read and write; after emancipation, he sold Burton several large plots … Read More

José Garza, candidate for Travis County District Attorney, stands for a portrait in East Austin, Tex., on Sept. 25, 2020. (Tamir Kalifa for The Texas Observer)
Texas Politics

José Garza Redefines ‘Progressive Prosecutor’

José Garza represents a new wave of reform-minded DAs who want to end the war on drugs and prosecute police officers who kill.

“Progressive prosecutor” can sound like a catchall descriptor for any district attorney willing to pack fewer bodies into jails and prisons. But one race this year seems to have redefined the term. In a July primary runoff, José Garza, a … Read More

FILE - IN this Tuesday, June 20, 2020 file photo, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks at a news conference at city hall in Dallas. Just days before George Floyd's funeral in his native Houston, a flurry of racist and conspiratorial posts by GOP leaders in Texas are overshadowing Republican Gov. Greg Abbott's efforts to heal divisions and assure protesters and black leaders of their commitment to confronting racial injustice. (AP Photo/LM Otero, File)
Texas Politics

The Long Tail of Voter Suppression

As the growing number of Black and Latinx voters threaten the GOP’s stranglehold on power, attempts to limit safe voting options during the pandemic reveal a deeper sickness in Texas politics.

This article was published in partnership with The Nation. Founded by abolitionists in 1865, The Nation has chronicled the breadth and depth of political and cultural life from the debut of the telegraph to the rise of Twitter, serving as … Read More

Criminal Justice

Trump’s Favorite Texas Sheriff Faces Re-Election Amid a Spike in Deaths at His Jail

Conservative media have turned Tarrant County Sheriff Bill Waybourn into a right-wing celebrity despite a long list of scandals on his watch.

On May 17, a pregnant woman delivered a baby alone and locked inside her cell at the Tarrant County jail. After the Fort Worth Star-Telegram broke the story later that month, Sheriff Bill Waybourn, who manages the facility, explained in … Read More

Howard Henderson at Texas Southern University, where he is a professor of justice adminstration and the founding director of the Center for Justice Research.
Criminal Justice

Researcher Howard Henderson on Reimagining Policing in the U.S.

Henderson says policing in the U.S. perpetuates systems of inequality that mirror the nation’s history of colonialism.

The uprising sparked by the police killing of George Floyd on May 25 has pushed the debate around public safety into territory that would have seemed unthinkable in Texas just months ago. Howard Henderson, director of the Center for Justice … Read More

Demetria McFarland, left, and her sister drove through the night to visit a memorial for George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Civil Rights, Culture, News, The Issue, Topics

A Monumental Undertaking

Protests to remove racist statues and iconography are part of a larger effort to reframe Texas history.

A Monumental Undertaking Protests to remove racist statues and iconography are part of a larger effort to reframe Texas history. By Michael Barajas August 11, 2020  The party Demetria McFarland’s family throws every Juneteenth is so big they usually … Read More