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].

State Representative Gene Wu speaking at an event.

Gene Wu on Coronavirus and the Rise in Hate-Fueled Attacks Against Asian Americans

How comments from Trump, Cruz, and Cornyn inflame deep-seated prejudices against Asian Americans, further alienating them.

Jose L. Gomez, a 19-year-old charged with three counts of attempted capital murder, allegedly wanted to kill an Asian American family that included two young children because he thought they were Chinese and “infecting people with coronavirus.”  A recent FBI … Read More

Criminal Justice

Families of Sick Prisoners Plead for Compassionate Release as Coronavirus Spreads Behind Bars in Texas

Advocates for incarcerated people are urging Governor Abbott to release parole-eligible people who are elderly or have chronic illnesses.

Justin Phillips’ health started deteriorating soon after police arrested him on drug charges in 2016. He grew gravely ill while waiting for his court date at the Smith County jail in Tyler, and doctors diagnosed him with kidney disease. Now, … Read More

bexar county jail
Criminal Justice

Some Texas Officials Want to Divert People from Jail Amid Coronavirus Scare

Fearing spread of coronavirus, some sheriffs are calling on police to stop arresting and jailing people on low-level charges—a step reformers have been pushing for years.

Last week, as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Texas rose, Collin County Sheriff Jim Skinner urged local police to think twice about who they arrest and bring to his jail.  In his letter to local law enforcement officials, … Read More

The line to vote at 9:25 p.m. at Texas Southern University.
Civil Rights, News

An ‘Election Meltdown’ in Texas

How voter suppression, poor planning, incendiary rhetoric, and fear of coronavirus could erode public confidence in elections.

Primary voters in some parts of Texas waited in punishingly long lines to cast a ballot last Tuesday. A surge in Democratic voter turnout overwhelmed many polling places on university campuses, as well as other locations serving communities of color … Read More

The line to vote at 9:25 p.m. at Texas Southern University.
Texas Politics

Democratic Voters Surge in Texas Primary, Waiting in Punishingly Long Lines as Officials Struggle to Keep Up

Grueling wait times stretched hours past closing time at polling locations across Texas. One voter in Houston waited nearly seven hours to cast his ballot.

One of the biggest and most disturbing storylines to emerge on Super Tuesday wasn’t about any top-of-the-ticket race, but rather the shockingly long wait times as some Texas polling locations struggled to keep up with increased turnout.  According to the … Read More

Harris County DA Kim Ogg.
Criminal Justice

Texas Prosecutor Races Offer Competing Visions for Criminal Justice Reform

In Harris County, Kim Ogg’s more cautious approach to reform wins big while Travis County’s incumbent DA still faces a challenge from the left.

Kim Ogg’s bruising primary fight to remain Harris County District Attorney was one of the most closely watched races in criminal justice reform circles heading into Super Tuesday. Both national reform groups and local progressive organizers in Houston backed a … Read More

This Wednesday, June 21, 2017 photo shows barbed wire surrounding the prison that holds Jason Robinson, 39, in Gatesville, Texas. Robinson was convicted of murder at 16 and sentenced to automatic life with the possibility of parole. States are responding to U.S. Supreme Court rulings that have found mandatory life-without-parole sentences unconstitutional for juveniles except for the rare homicide offender incapable of rehabilitation. After the latest ruling in January 2016 said those serving such terms must have a chance to argue for release one day, dozens of inmates have won new sentences — and some, freedom — while others wait or fight to have their sentences reviewed. (AP Photo/Jaime Dunaway)
Criminal Justice

Texas Prisons Ban Greeting Cards, Expand Drug-Sniffing Dog Searches to Visitors

Families of prisoners and civil rights groups call the new policies arbitrary, punitive, and isolating for people behind bars.

The cards and artwork that Maggie Luna’s children sent to her in prison helped her make it through her sentence. “It was one of the few things I had to look forward to,” she says.  Now new mail and visitation … Read More

Texas Politics

1,500 Nueces County Voters Were Wrongly Sent Letters Demanding Proof of ID

A big mistake in the lead up to primary voting underscores the anxiety around misinformation on elections and barriers to voting.

Early this month, Nueces County resident Linda White received a surprising piece of mail: Form 5-22a, a “notice to voter who must provide identification.” The notice, sent by the county clerk’s office, warned that her vote wouldn’t count unless she … Read More

Alec Karakatsanis with his book 'Usual Cruelty.'
Criminal Justice

Alec Karakatsanis on the ‘Usual Cruelty’ of the Criminal Justice System

In his book, Karakatsanis argues that lawyers and judges have become numb to the cruelties of the criminal justice system—and ultimately stand in the way of changing it.

These days, political candidates of all stripes say they support “criminal justice reform,” but what does that really mean?  Alec Karakatsanis, a public defender turned civil rights lawyer, argues that the majority of officials calling for change have done little … Read More