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:

Nueces County tablets
Criminal Justice

In Texas, 3 Out of 4 County Jail Inmates Haven’t Been Convicted of a Crime

Pretrial detainees — legally innocent people who have been charged but not convicted of a crime — now occupy more beds in jails than any other group.

Three years after a Texas state trooper ripped her out of her car and slammed her to the ground over a traffic violation, Sandra Bland’s name still evokes images of police brutality. Her name also remains on the lips of … Read More

Criminal Justice

Who Gets Mercy on Death Row? Chris Young’s Execution Raises Questions of Racial Bias

The clemency process is a black box — one where hearings are rarely held and decisions are never really explained, making it nearly impossible to prove bias.

Secrecy is a hallmark of the death penalty in Texas, where the state masks the identities of executioners and shields critical details about its controversial lethal drugs from public scrutiny. Texas’ process for deciding whether condemned prisoners deserve mercy is … Read More

Criminal Justice

College Degree Options Are Disappearing for Women in Texas Prisons

In Texas, four-year degree programs for imprisoned women are expiring, even as more of them end up in the prison system.

The only bachelor’s degree programs available to women incarcerated in the Texas prison system are ending. By 2020, Texas A&M University-Central says it will completely phase out three four-year degree programs it offers to women at several state prisons in … Read More

Civil Rights, News

‘Dumbfounding’ Ruling on Texas’ Gerrymandered Maps Steers Supreme Court Away From Race

The ruling sets a nearly impossible standard for proving allegations of “discriminatory intent,” the only way left to rein in states that pass racist voting laws.

In a ruling delivered June 25, 2013, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts declared that it was time to dismantle a key plank of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. “Our country has changed,” he wrote. On Monday, five years to … Read More


How Disaster Recovery Overlooks the Poor

Texas’ recent plan for allocating $5 billion in federal disaster recovery grants neglects the poorest people harmed by Hurricane Harvey, activists say.

Early in his career, David Hall came to see the Rio Grande Valley’s most impoverished communities as an important prism for viewing Texas’ civil rights struggles. Hall, who led Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA) for 42 years until his retirement … Read More

Governor Greg Abbott

Greg Abbott’s Own Research Shows He Could Remove a Confederate Marker at the Capitol if He Wanted To

Abbott’s recent crash course on Confederate markers shows that immediate steps to remove the Capitol plaque are available — should he find the stomach.

For the past seven months, Governor Greg Abbott has been studying what he can do about a 59-year-old plaque hanging in the Texas Capitol that denies the Civil War was fought over slavery. While many lawmakers, including the speaker of … Read More

Criminal Justice

In Austin, ‘Discretionary’ Arrests for Petty Crimes Skew Blacker, Browner Than City Population

Austin Police Department officers used their discretion to arrest black defendants at a rate more than double that of either whites or Latinos last year.

In Texas, the consequences of getting caught with pot are a crapshoot. While the state has some of the most draconian and nonsensical marijuana laws on the books, the odds of getting hauled off to jail for a small amount … Read More

Criminal Justice

Something Has Changed in the Gun Debate in Texas

Texas Governor Greg Abbott has discovered a more palatable response to mass shootings, but how far beyond “thoughts and prayers” is he willing to go to curb gun violence?

Thoughts and prayers aren’t good enough following Texas’ latest mass shooting, not even for some of the state’s gun-loving officials. “We need to do more than just pray for the victims and their families,” Governor Greg Abbott declared at a … Read More

bail, wealth based detention, civil rights
Criminal Justice

Ahead of Mother’s Day, Activists Bail Out Young Black Moms Across Texas

Organizers who raised money to bail out black mothers across the state are part of a movement seeking to end what civil rights groups call “wealth-based detention.”

Simone Oliver took her first-ever trip to the Bexar County jail on April 25, when she said an argument with her partner spiraled into a misdemeanor domestic assault charge. Because she couldn’t afford $3,000 bail, Oliver spent 14 nights in … Read More