How Long... Too Long: The Tragic Events at Mother Emanuel AME Church

06/24/2015 04:19 pm ET | Updated Jun 24, 2016

On Sunday, September 15, 1963, four members of the Ku Klux Klan planted at least 15 sticks of dynamite beneath the front steps of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Four young girls were killed and many others injured in what was a clear act of White supremacist terrorism.

Fast forward to Wednesday, June 17, 2015, when nine innocent individuals were massacred at Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in another act of domestic terrorism in the name of White supremacy.

Some pundits and others in the media have attempted to characterize 21-year-old White supremacist and confessed shooter Dylann Roof as mentally ill. However, I do not share this perspective. Rather, I believe Roofs' alleged actions are akin to those of Timothy McVeigh who was responsible for 168 deaths in the Oklahoma City bombing of April 1995, and Anders Breivik, who killed 77 people in Norway in 2011.

Roofs' reported actions were those of a lone wolf who had been self-radicalized as a home-grown domestic terrorist and it is all too clear what he wanted to accomplish. Roofs' purported online manifesto states: "I have no choice. I am not in the position to, alone, go into the ghetto and fight. I chose Charleston because it is most historic city in my state, and at one time had the highest ratio of blacks to Whites in the country. We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the Internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me."

Given this rhetoric, it is interesting to listen to members of the media discuss the state of his mental health rather than his racist attitudes and beliefs. Had he been a person of color, or Muslim, he would have been designated as either a thug or a terrorist and the integrity of entire groups of people and communities would have to bear the cost for his actions.

Even more disturbing to me is the fact that Roof, who was born in 1994, was consumed by such hatred of a people because of the color of their skin. Those three men and six women had come to their beloved Emanuel AME Church -- Mother Emanuel, as the church is affectionately known -- to study the Bible and be in fellowship with one another. They welcomed this stranger into their midst and after an hour he proceeded to commit an act of terror and horror in that sanctuary that will forever change families and the community at large.

While most racists do not exercise their hatred in the extreme way that Roof did, their irrational anger toward people because of skin color is difficult to understand. These attitudes and feelings seem especially perplexing when coming from someone of the Millennial generation, the generation born between 1981 and today. This group of young people are often viewed as very progressive on many social issues, and many of them indeed are. However we should not be as surprised, as Washington Post reporter Scott Clement observed in his aptly named article "Millennials are just as racist as their parents." Citing research from the General Social Survey, which was funded primarily by the National Science Foundation and conducted through in-person interviews with a random national sample of U.S. adults, the story found a significant number of white millennial have prejudiced attitudes toward blacks.

"Over 3 in 10 white millenials believe blacks to be lazier or less hardworking than whites, and a similar number say lack of motivation is a reason why they are less financially well off as a group. Just under a quarter believes blacks are less intelligent, while fewer express opposition to interracial marriage or living in a 50-percent black neighborhood. Holding these attitudes is not the same as making racist comments in public or even among close friends, but there's clearly an audience for race-based judgment among the Millennial generation."

So, no, I do not believe that Roof is mentally ill. I believe he was consumed by racial animus and hatred. Today, 52 years after the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, we are still in the belly of the beast, in the midst of internal strife and racial conflict.

Following the edict of American author, feminist, and social activist bell hooks who in her book "killing rage: Ending Racism," said: "All our silences in the face of racist assault are acts of complicity," I strongly suggest that we stop hiding from the scourge of racism and terrorist racist behavior.

We must act now to prevent other incidents such as what happened at Mother Emanuel AME church from ever happening again.