They say “a photo is worth a thousand words.” In this case, a single photo is prompting much more than that.
Public outrage has ensued after a photo of 16 West Point cadets allegedly raising their fists in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement was leaked online.
The photo appears to show the all-black, all-female cadets raising their fists in a gesture that has lately come to be associated with the controversial movement. However, the gesture has been used for centuries to symbolize resistance by a variety of groups, from labor unions to suffragists to Black Panthers.
The Army Times reports that it received the photo on May 4 from concerned readers who were worried that the cadets may have violated Department of Defense Directive 1344:10, Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces. The directive discourages cadets from “partisan political activity” when in uniform.
John Burk, a former soldier and now current motivational coach, accused the cadets of aligning themselves with a political movement. He noted on his Facebook page that an anonymous military service member reached out to him to express their concern.
“It’s a really touchy subject here,” the anonymous source told Burk, according to the Daily News. “We can get kicked out of West Point, or forced to repeat years for what is called a ‘respect board.’ They can be given just for making someone upset, so no one wants to get kicked out of college … over something like this.”
Burk’s Facebook post has since gone viral, and many commenters were unhappy with the cadets’ actions.
“Equality means abiding by the same standards,” one commenter wrote. “Kick those WOMEN OUT!”
“All of these cadets should be expelled, immediately!” another wrote.
“We can confirm that the cadets in this photo are members of the U.S. Military Academy’s Class of 2016,” Lt. Christopher Kaser, a spokesman for West Point, said in an emailed statement to the Army Times and the Daily News. “Academy officials are conducting an inquiry into the matter.”
It remains to be seen what disciplinary actions the Army will take, if any. The 16 cadets in the photo have yet to be identified.