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 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

Politics

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

Politics

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

Civil Rights, News

Civil Rights Groups Call Ken Paxton’s ‘VOTER FRAUD ALERT’ a Smokescreen for Voter Suppression

How a misleading advisory to county elections officials triggered fake news that Texas Republicans could use to bolster new barriers for voting.

Last month, after a double-digit increase in voter turnout during the midterms and the best election results Texas Democrats had seen in at least a quarter century, Governor Greg Abbott appointed one of his long-time, right-hand men as the state’s … Read More

Criminal Justice

The Tattooed Star of the ‘Progressive Prosecutor’ Movement Braces for His First Death Penalty Trial

Mark Gonzalez wants a jury to help him decide whether Nueces County should keep sending people to death row.

In mid-January 2017, a couple of days after Mark Gonzalez was sworn in as Nueces County’s new district attorney, a deputy prosecutor approached him to ask how the office should handle the Arturo Garza case. Garza, who has reportedly admitted … Read More

Politics

Abbott, Patrick, Bonnen Quietly Vote to Remove Slavery-Denying Plaque from Texas Capitol

“The reality is that plaque never should have gone up in the state Capitol in the first place, and it shouldn’t have taken 60 years to take it down,” state Representative Eric Johnson said.

Since the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville a year and a half ago, Texas officials have faced increasing demands to purge the statehouse of a plaque that says the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery. On Friday, in … Read More

janice dotson, jail death
Criminal Justice

‘Ignored to Death’ in the Bexar County Jail

Janice Dotson-Stevens' death is another tragic example of how bad the criminal justice system is at dealing with mentally ill people who enter it.

by Michael Barajas January 4, 2019 – Three days after Christmas, family and friends of Janice Dotson-Stephens packed into pews inside the Lewis Funeral Home in San Antonio, mourning the 61-year-old great-grandmother’s death at the Bexar County jail earlier that … Read More

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