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.
Criminal Justice

Reform vs. Rebuild: Defunding Law Enforcement in Texas

Years of activism and a legacy of police violence are fueling demands to reimagine public safety.

Reform vs. Rebuild: Defunding Law Enforcement in Texas Years of activism and a legacy of police violence are fueling demands to reimagine public safety. By Michael Barajas July 8, 2020 For Sara Mokuria, Father’s Day is an annual reminder of … Read More

parole protest
Criminal Justice

COVID-19 Has Delayed Programs That Texas Prisoners Need to Get Out

People approved for parole in the Texas prison system already waited months to start programs required for their release. Coronavirus is making some wait even longer.

Darcy Vargas says it felt like an early Christmas present when her son Gerald made parole in early December after serving more than a year in the Texas prison system for a drug charge. Once he completed a six month … Read More

Family remembers Mike Ramos, center here as a child, as a goof who always posed for photos.
Civil Rights, News

Why Protesters In Austin Are Chanting ‘Justice for Mike Ramos’

The protests sweeping Texas cities are a stark reminder of the pain caused by police violence.

Why Protesters In Austin Are Chanting ‘Justice for Mike Ramos’ The protests sweeping Texas cities are a stark reminder of the pain caused by police violence. By Michael Barajas June 5, 2020 Red rose bushes grace the lawn outside the … Read More

Criminal Justice

Locked Out

Visitation is a critical lifeline for incarcerated people, yet some families say Texas prison officials ban them from seeing loved ones over petty or unproven claims of misconduct.

Locked Out Visitation is a critical lifeline for incarcerated people, yet some families say Texas prison officials ban them from seeing loved ones over petty or unproven claims of misconduct. Michael Barajas  Chris Gash Rachel Rodriguez remembers her son … Read More

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

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