The Root's Clapback Mailbag: Yesterday

Image for article titled The Root's Clapback Mailbag: Yesterday
Illustration: Oscar Bustamante

Today, there is no lede.

Yesterday, the staff at The Root received this email

From: Matt
To: The Root

Good afternoon,

I love The Root, and you’ve got a great community of regular commenters on your site, but (as I’m sure you’ve heard plenty about) you have quite a few regular and not-so-regular trolls stirring up all kinds of hate in your comment sections.

I understand the internet is largely made of garbage like those hateful trolls (because people are also not showing a great track record, especially in this country), but is there anything that can be done about seriously concerning problems?

I’m writing specifically for one comment I’m attaching a picture of, with the comment date stamp and the article link included in the pic.

Please, if anything can be done about this, please take action. This comment sounds only a step or two removed from a direct death threat, and I would hope your site would be able to do something about THAT, if not the myriad hate-filled comments that seem to be moderated by only the commenters able to dismiss and flag these trolls.

Thanks for the always great content! I hope for a future filled with less hateful nonsense trying to drag your greatness down.



Image for article titled The Root's Clapback Mailbag: Yesterday
Screenshot: Matt F.

Dear Matt:

Yesterday, I walked the dog, worked, went to Home Depot, talked to my daughter and called my cousin.

Because I am having some work done in my kitchen, I took the dog for a walk while listening to the latest episode of This American Life about Dr. Michael LaPaglia, whose medical license had been suspended multiple times for drug violations. The doctor was also caught with illegal drugs, was busted for letting another doctor use his prescription pad, allegedly beat his girlfriend and ran an illegal opioid prescribing scam out of a McDonald’s parking lot.

Ultimately, the doctor lost his medical license and had to go in front of the Tennessee licensing board to see if he could get it back. For some reason, the doctor’s name sounded familiar but I didn’t think anything of it because I didn’t finish the podcast. I had to go to work.

My daughter called me while I was at work. I could hear music in the background, which upset me a little until I realized she was calling me from the car.

Last weekend, I helped her move into an apartment in the town where she attends college. When we were moving in, her next-door neighbor, who is white, opened the door and politely asked if they could keep the noise to a minimum because she was studying for the bar exam. She wasn’t rude about it and it seemed reasonable. But all week, in the back of my mind, I have been thinking: “I hope my daughter doesn’t get too loud and that woman calls the cops.”


My daughter casually asked me what I was doing, and I told her that I was writing a story about Breonna Taylor.

Late yesterday, I received an email with documents about the Breonna Taylor case. I assumed that the documents came through the tip line and that one of my coworkers would pick it up. When they didn’t, I realized that they were emailed to me, so I shared them with our other writers. Because it was the end of the day, I offered to write the story.


Like me, most people were outraged to learn that the entire episode—the no-knock warrant that led to the raid, which led to a shootout, which led to Breonna Taylor being killed—was based on “misleading evidence,” which is commonly called a lie.


But even those who mourn Breonna Taylor’s death don’t see how this is evidence of systemic racism. Sure, the police fucked up but, to most people, the incident was a series of unfortunate events that had nothing to do with the disregard for Black lives.

However, there was a small quote from an interview with Joshua Jaynes that infuriated me because it was absolute proof of how bias kills Black people. Despite assurances from the post office, other cops and police officers who actually monitored Taylor’s mail that she was not receiving packages for her ex-boyfriend, Jaynes explained why he was so insistent on searching Breonna Taylor’s apartment:

Ultimately, Jaynes said he felt confident in his suspicions that Glover was using Taylor’s apartment in his drug trafficking business.

“They get other people involved, and it’s usually females,” he said in his interview. “It’s usually baby-mamas or one child in common or it’s girlfriends that they can trust. They can trust them with their money and their stuff.”


Just racism. That’s it.

While explaining the new developments to my daughter, I got choked up. She could probably hear it in my voice. To make the conversation less awkward, she asked me if I had talked to “my lil friend.” I instantly knew she was talking about Sen. Kamala Harris, but, instead of explaining that I don’t randomly text back and forth with the next vice president, I just said that I had forgotten to text Kamala Harris to tell her that she had done a good job at the debate.


But my daughter wasn’t talking about the debate. She had read the story about the plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and figured: If white supremacists were that upset about Whitmer’s stay-at-home orders, what would they do to Sen. Harris?

Yes, Kamala Harris has my phone number.

In March, months before Joe Biden chose her as his running mate, Sen. Harris contacted The Root about a story. At the time, the media was beginning to notice the coronavirus’ disproportionate impact on Black communities, and I thought Harris would be a good person to interview for the story. She agreed but during our subsequent interview, she didn’t focus on COVID-19 at all. Instead, she kept turning the conversation toward an entirely different subject— specifically that The Root needed to start writing about how Black America needs to embrace mail-in voting for the 2020 election, which I thought was a strange subject for her to keep focusing on.


Here is part of the actual transcript of our conversation:

You know, part of what I want to talk with you about, and to talk with others about through you is voting by mail. It is actually really easy and it’s really convenient and you just, you sit at your kitchen table, you can still create a ceremony around it and have the kids around and maybe you know, have asked them questions and let them fill it in with you.

So we want to talk with folks about trusting the vote by mail process and let’s create some new traditions around voting by mail. So there’s that piece of my bill. But the other piece of it is for people who are, who are, you know, in places where there’s not going to be full by mail or we can’t get that done because the state doesn’t want to do it. Well, we need to make sure that there are non-vote by mail options. And so part of what I’m pushing for is we need to make sure that, for example, 26% of native Americans in Arizona don’t have a postal address. So they’re not going to be able to vote by mail, right. Voters with disabilities or language needs, you know, they, they, they rely on in-person voting. And then of course, back to the black community where historically there’s a tradition that is not voting by mail and, and, and to some extent on this trust of voting by mail.


Luckily, I managed to get a few quotes about coronavirus policy, but after our conversation, I couldn’t help but reflect on how awkward the conversation was. It was like she was giving me homework.

“Why is the senator so adamant about this issue?” I wondered. “It’s almost like she thinks someone is going to steal votes.”


Anyway, I told my daughter that I was sure Kamala Harris had things covered. But that made me remember to tell my daughter that I wanted her to come here for the election. I didn’t have time to talk about it because I was writing the Breonna Taylor story but my request dates back to a few months ago when I was “summoned.”

I don’t know if you’ve ever been “summoned” by someone important, but prominent people rarely tell you why they are summoning you. This person asked me to meet them at a literal secret location. When I arrived, this person, one of the most prominent civil rights authorities of our time, explained that this upcoming election was gonna be scary and bloody for Black America. I’m talking Reconstruction bad. I don’t know what the hell they wanted me to do about it; maybe they were looking out for my well-being, but I listened and went home.


After I finished writing the story, I drove to Home Depot. During the drive, I called my cousin, Joy. Joy’s mother passed away a few weeks ago from COVID-19. They both live in Lee County, S.C.—within walking distance from where our family was enslaved. Fortunately, the coronavirus case rate in Lee County isn’t unusually high. Unfortunately, the majority-Black county’s case rate isn’t high because the county’s COVID cases are usually attributed to the neighboring counties. There is a good reason for this.

Lee County, S.C., is one of eight South Carolina counties without a single hospital bed.


Joy wasn’t home, so she couldn’t talk.

She’s in the hospital with COVID.

Since I couldn’t talk to my cousin, I finished listening to the episode of This American Life. It turns out, the shady doctor escaped punishment because the Tennessee licensing board had sympathy for him. He fed them a bullshit story, and the board, which is composed of other physicians, bought it. One even said he considered how the doctor would feed his family. Another board member said he didn’t consider the doctor a danger to the community.


The episode bothered me—not because the doctor benefitted from white privilege but because the doctor’s name sounded so familiar. I was sure that I had written about this dude. So, sitting in the parking lot of Home Depot, I googled LaPaglia’s name.

I was wrong.


In 2017, Torrance Jackson woke up in jail and wondered how he got there and why there was blood in his underwear. It turns out, doctors in Syracuse, N.Y., performed a nonconsensual anal probe on Jackson after cops accused him of being in possession of illegal drugs. They handcuffed him, anesthetized him and searched his rectum with a colonoscope. When they found nothing, they put Jackson in jail anyway. The next day, he was released while he was still unconscious.


After writing the story. I received an email saying that there was another doctor who had done something even worse to multiple Black men.


According to the email, this doctor medicinally paralyzed Black patients at police officer’s requests. Because the men couldn’t breathe when paralyzed, they had to intubate the suspects and conduct a rectal exam. This story was fascinating to me and I wanted to write about it. But, according to the person who emailed me, there was no documentation because the physician was never disciplined for his actions, even when they were made public.

That doctor’s name was Dr. Michael LaPaglia.

This is why some of us at The Root (I can’t speak for all of us) don’t police the comment section like some of our sister and brother sites.


Imagine being raped and jailed for not wanting to be raped and jailed. Imagine learning that the doctor who allegedly did this and more was still practicing. Imagine lying in bed while bullets rain on you based on a police officer’s racist assumptions. Imagine that police officer still being able to patrol your neighborhood. Imagine a global pandemic coming to kill you. Imagine someone with power and inside knowledge “summoning you” to tell you that the global pandemic that’s coming to kill you is not even the worst-case scenario.

Now imagine living in a country where all these threats and more hang over your head every day. Now imagine what that country will do to your children. Imagine knowing it will steal your children’s votes, rape them and murder them in their sleep at the random whimsy of someone whose whiteness endows them with the privilege of being seen as a human being.


Imagine dying.

Imagine having to imagine dying every day.

Now, imagine a fucktroll coward typing a grammatically incorrect summary of the shit you already know many of them they are thinking already.


Imagine being afraid of that.

When my daughter called back, she asked me what I did yesterday. In response, I eloquently recounted my day of ingesting America’s unrelenting violence against Black lives.


“Well,” I said. “I walked the dog, worked, went to Home Depot and called my cousin.

“You know... Same ol’ same ol’.”


Foxstar loves Bashcraft

Honestly, given that Kinja was, is and will be into the future a giant piece of shit that makes attempts to moderate and deal with bad faith-shit-stirring trolls a massive waste of time, I don’t blame the staff from taking one look at the greys and going ‘nope’ and moving on.

The other thing to remember is the noted troll and his kin are chickenshit cowards who do what they do on the net because they know they won’t face any real blowback. Same reason the KKK does what it does in the dead of night and behind masks. No threat of payment for their bullshit.

That said, even though Kinja is almost useless at dealing with trolls, the commenters need to remember that not only are said troll and his kin chickenshit, they are also massive attention whores. Stop trying to clap back.

If they’ve got a comment out of the grey, scroll past.

The dismiss button is great, because when you nuke that comment, it goes to a place only IT can see. It is likely to only good thing in Kinja.

I know we are in the year of our lord 2020, but starving trolls works wonders.