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:

Ken Paxton

Texas’ Indicted Attorney General is Barely Bothering to Campaign

This year, Ken Paxton is again running in absentia: avoiding the press, making few public appearances and refusing to debate Democratic challenger Justin Nelson.

It’s the Ken Paxton Vanishing Act, where you insert yourself in matters deeply consequential to Texans, only to then disappear — declining to comment or even show your face in public. In 2014, Paxton won a bitter GOP primary for … Read More

Criminal Justice

In Arlington, How Not to Respond to a Police Shooting

The Arlington Police Department's bumbling response to the death of O'Shae Terry has only inflamed community tensions. Meanwhile, the DA has gone radio silent ahead of the election.

The meeting started cordially enough, but quickly turned sour. Angry community members lobbed question after question at a representative of the Arlington Police Department: “How do I know your police officers are not going to kill my child?” “How can … Read More

Criminal Justice

Texas Prisons Lead the Nation in Long-Term Solitary Confinement

Nearly a third of Texas prisoners in restrictive housing have been there for six years or longer, according to a new national survey.

The growing bipartisan consensus around solitary confinement — that it’s inhumane and overused across the criminal justice system — has led to its sharp decline in recent years, including in Texas. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), which kept … Read More


Texas Governor Greg Abbott Opens His Mind to Marijuana Decriminalization… Kinda

Activists say Abbott’s moderated stance is “huge,” but his call for reform still lags behind Texas Republicans and the general public.

For the past three years, Governor Greg Abbott has been viewed as a primary hurdle to rewriting Texas’ draconian marijuana laws. So on Friday, when he revealed he’s “open” to the idea of reducing criminal penalties for low-level pot possession … Read More

Criminal Justice

Stand By Your Man

How the Collin County GOP derailed Ken Paxton’s prosecution and turned him into a right-wing hero.

by Michael Barajas October 1, 2018 Three years ago, just months after being sworn in as Texas attorney general, Ken Paxton’s days seemed numbered. In July 2015, a grand jury had indicted Paxton on three felony charges — two for … Read More

Criminal Justice

Cruz’s Reaction to ‘New Jim Crow’ Comments Ignores the Racist Roots of Mass Incarceration

O’Rourke talks racial disparities in the justice system; Cruz goes nuclear and embraces the politics of policing, revealing an aversion to confronting our dark past.

Several minutes into his first televised showdown with Beto O’Rourke on Friday, Senator Ted Cruz dove into a controversy that had dominated right-wing media, yet escaped the attention of the left. A moderator asked Cruz about his mealy-mouthed stance on … Read More

dallas, secret bail bond, civil rights
Criminal Justice

Civil Rights Groups are Changing Bail Practices in Texas, One City at a Time

On Thursday, a federal judge ruled against Dallas County’s strict reliance on cash bail, saying it discriminates against poor people and violates their equal protection rights.

If police arrest and charge you with a misdemeanor in Dallas County, and you can’t afford bail, you’ll likely be stuck in jail somewhere between four to 10 days, until your first court hearing. If you’re charged with a felony … Read More

dallas shooting
Criminal Justice

How the Police Shooting of Botham Jean Disrupted Dallas’ Reputation for Reform

The brain-twisting shooting of a man inside his own apartment is yet another example of both police escalation and the flexibility often afforded cops who commit egregious acts.

UPDATE: Dallas Police Department Chief U. Renée Hall fired officer Amber Guyger on September 24, about two weeks after she was charged with manslaughter for the killing of Botham Jean. Family and friends of Jordan Edwards cried tears of both joy … Read More