By Sheryl Estrada
The image of 16 West Point cadets in uniform outside a U.S. Military Academy barracks with their fists raised has been circulating social media.West Point is investigating whether the women’s raised fists are in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
DiversityInc contacted the West Point’s public affairs department on Tuesday morning. A representative said the investigation is ongoing and when asked did not comment on whether West Point views Black Lives Matter as a political organization. The following statement byLt. Col. Christopher Kasker,West Point’s director of public affairs,wasprovided:
“An inquiry into this matter is currently ongoing. We can confirm that the cadets in this photo are members of the U.S. Military Academy’s Class of 2016.”
According to the Army Times, “While many details are unknown about the photo, the image has been shared widely in military circles, with claims the women are supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.”
The Times received the photo last week from readers who believed the women violated Department of Defense Directive 1344.10, Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces. The policy provides “a list of political do’s and don’ts for service members and cautions against ‘partisan political activity’ when in uniform.”
John Burk, a former drill sergeant and blogger, who is white, said in an email to the New York Times that he had disciplined soldiers for making Nazi salutes in photos, and felt the raised fist was not much different.
Other former military members disagree that the photo is a political statement.Rachel VanLandingham, a retired air force lieutenant colonel, commented to The Guardian,”I think if there had been a bunch of white boys in their cadet uniforms, or footballers, this would not have been an issue.” VanLandingham is a judge advocate and associate law professor at Southwestern Law School.
The Raised Fist
West Point is 70 percentwhite and predominantly male. According to theNew York Times, “The 16 cadets in the photo represented all but one of the Black women in a graduating class of about 1,000, a meager 1.7 percent.”
The U.S.Military across all branches has 9.4 percent Black active duty officers and almost 78 percent white officers.15.5 percent of U.S. Army officers are women.Blacks in the Army, including officers and enlisted personnel comprise 21.5 percent.
The women in the photo have not publicly commented on why they held up their fists.The raised fistis associated with numerous political movements, not tied to a specific ideology.
“The raised fist salute has long been a powerful but mercurial symbol, having been claimed by Spanish anti-Fascists in the 1930s, American civil rights activists in the 1960s famously by Black medalists at the 1968 Olympic Games and, more recently, by white nationalists in Europe,” according to the New York Times.
Even if the cadets were representing the Black Lives Matter movement, would it be a political statement
“Partisan political activity” doesn’t explain the nature of the Black Lives Matter movement, which is nonpartisan and defines itself as “a call to action and a response to the virulent anti-Black racism that permeates our society.”
Democratic and Republican Candidates
The Democratic National Committee (DNC) passed a resolution on Aug. 28 condemning “extrajudicial killings of unarmed African American men, women and children,”in support of the movement.
However, Black Lives Matter issued astatement on Facebookon Aug. 30 in response to the resolution, stating it does not affiliate with any political party:
“A resolution signaling the Democratic National Committee’s endorsement that Black lives matter, in no way implies an endorsement of the DNC by the Black Lives Matter Network, nor was it done in consultation with us. We do not now, nor have we ever, endorsed or affiliated with the Democratic Party, or with any party. The Democratic Party, like the Republican and all political parties, have historically attempted to control or contain Black people’s efforts to liberate ourselves. True change requires real struggle, and that struggle will be in the streets and led by the people, not by a political party.”
Members of the movement have challenged the views of Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
Activists interrupted Clinton at a fundraiser in South Carolina on Feb. 24.Black Lives Matter protesters have also highlighted Clinton’s support of former President Bill Clinton’s 1994 crime bill. Many argue that the bill and welfare reform in 1996 hurt the Black community.
Bill Clinton sparred with protesters in Philadelphia in April in defense of his administration’s policies. He later said heregretted his response.
At a Netroots Nation event in Phoenix on Aug. 8, Black Lives Matter protesters interrupted Sanders during a speech, demanding more governmental protection be given to Black Americans due to continuing cases of police-related deaths.
Both Sanders andClintonhave met with Black Lives Matter activists to discuss their views.
It has not been reported if presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has personally met with activists, but many have been removed from his political rallies.
In acolumnfor the Washington Post, Sierra K. Thomas, a student at Virginia State University in Petersburg, Va., wrote about what happened when she yelled “Black Lives Matter” at a Trump rally in North Carolina in March.
“People began to yell back at me, ‘All lives matter!’ ‘Get out of here!’ ‘Boo! Trump! Trump! Trump!’ I wanted to tell them that of course ‘all lives matter’ but that they weren’t dealing with the same struggles Black people were police brutality, an unfair justice system, generational poverty Trump looked my way and yelled into the mic: ‘Get out!’ The people I’d been sitting and talking with cheered with the rest of the crowd as police came over. Three officers grabbed me, and I heard cheering from all around.”
According to an MSNBCcolumnpublished in September, “Leading Republicans are increasingly looking to use the Black Lives Matter movement to stoke public concern about issues of law and order, and portray Democrats and the Obama administration as soft on crime and anti-police conservatives paint the movement as violent, racially divisive and anti-law-enforcement.”
In acommencement speechonSaturdayat Howard University, a historically Black university, President Barack Obama mentioned the Black Lives Matter movement:
“It’s thanks in large part to the activism of young people like many of you, from Black Twitter to Black Lives Matter, that America’s eyes have been opened white, Black, Democrat, Republican to the real problems, for example, in our criminal justice system.”