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].
Criminal Justice

Yet Again, Texas Lawmakers Face Crisis Conditions in Texas Prisons

Texas lawmakers are confronted with a bleak picture of life inside Texas Department of Criminal Justice facilities every two years. Will they act this year?

Lovinah Igbani feels lucky for surviving six Texas summers confined to a prison cell without air conditioning. During a House Corrections Committee hearing in late April, Igbani described desperately trying to cool down by covering herself with a wet sheet, … Read More

Texas Politics

In Gainesville, the Past Is Repeating Itself

Criminal charges against protesters, intimidation from counterprotesters, and the threat of violence by right-wing groups numbed protests against monuments in the North Texas town.

From the May/June 2021 issue. Justin Thompson initially reached out to the Gainesville Police Department (GPD) early last summer because he didn’t want to break any laws. As protests spread after the police killing of George Floyd, Thompson and other … Read More

Texas Legislature

“Election Integrity” or Voter Intimidation?

Texas Republicans are pushing changes to election laws that would let partisan poll watchers record voters in polling places.

During a March webinar, Bill Ely pulled up a map of Harris County while presenting the local Republican Party’s ambitious plan for the 2022 midterms: building an “army” of 10,000 conservative election monitors. Ely, a local Tea Party leader who … Read More

Texas Legislature

The Lege This Week: “Another Watershed Moment”

The push for an omnibus reform package named after George Floyd underscores how outrage over his death changed local and state policy debates around policing.

Welcome to the 87th Legislative Session. Since the last session came to a close in June 2019, Texas has been hit by an unrestrained pandemic and a crippling economic crisis—and now the fallout from deadly blackouts. Under unprecedented circumstances, lawmakers … Read More

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