The raised fist has long been a symbol of resistance, whether it be along the lines of race, gender, or socioeconomic status. A number of groups throughout history have used it to express their resistance to oppression and determination to overcome struggle; from the Black Panther Party to labor unions, socialists and suffragists. Today, it’s mainly associated with the influential political activist group Black Lives Matter.
This is exactly why a group of cadets at the West Point Academy are in hot water. A photo recently surfaced of 16 African-American cadets standing outside a barracks at the U.S. Military Academy with their fists in the air, The Army Times reports. The picture drew criticism as it circulated the internet, many accusing the young women of outwardly supporting the Black Lives Matter Movement.
“We can confirm that the cadets in this photo are members of the U.S. Military Academy’s Class of 2016,” said West Point’s director of public affairs Lt. Col. Christopher Kasker in an email to The Army Times. “Academy officials are conducting an inquiry into the matter.”
Critics are also concerned that the cadets were in violation of the Department of Defense Directive 1344.10, Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces. The policy lists the do’s and don’t’s for service members when it comes to political statements, party affiliations, etc., according to The Army Times. For example, service members are allowed to join and attend the meetings of partisan or non-partisan groups when they’re NOT in uniform. A member of the Armed forces may not, however, “display a partisan political sign, poster, banner, or similar device visible to the public at one’s residence on a military installation, even if that residence is part of a privatized housing development.”
Motivational coach and former soldier John Burk took to to his fitness website, In The Area, to voice his disapproval of the photo. He then posted his statement on Facebook, which was then shared over 1,200 times, The Army Times reports.
“The students below in the picture have been making their voices heard more and more behind closed doors to senior ranking officers, until now,” Burk wrote. “This overt display of the black lives matter movement is not, in itself, wrong per say, but to do so while in uniform is completely unprofessional and not in keeping with what the USMA stands for, and as well as violating the DOD directive 1344.10.”
He went on to condemn the cadets for publicly supporting a movement that is “known for inflicting violent protest throughout various parts of the United States, calling for the deaths of police officers, and even going so far as to call for the deaths of white Americans.” Burk revealed that the senior class had been trying to make their voices heard more and more through the anonymous phone app Yik Yak, for fear of being harshly punished or accused of racism for their views.
“It’s a really touchy subject here,” an unnamed source told Burk concerning the reactions of white soldiers to the photo.”We can get kicked out of West Point, or forced to repeat years for what is called a ‘respect board.’ They can be given for just making someone upset, so no one wants to get kicked out of college and lose their commission over something like this, especially since a white man, in this situation, is already at a disadvantage when a conversation like this starts. It’s purely political.”
The Black Lives Matter Movement, established in 2012, seeks to address racial inequality and is “working to rebuild the Black liberation movement,” according to its official website. BLM was recently in the news after the Ghost Squad, a hacking group created from the Anonymous hactivist collective, shut down the organization’s website in protest to assert that “All Lives Matter,” not just Black ones, the International Business Times reports.
“Are these the type of “leaders” you want moving down to the line and leading your sons and daughters, graduates with an agenda?,” Burk wrote on his website.
An investigation into the cadets’ photo is still ongoing.