West Point Clears Black Cadets, Photo is About ‘Unity’

The U.S. Military Academy at West Point announced Tuesday evening that an inquiry into the photo of the 16 cadets in a photograph with raised fists found the women did not violate Department of Defense or Army regulations and no punitive action will be taken.


Last week, the photo of 16 Black women in theU.S. Military Academy’s Class of 2016began circulating on social media. According to the Army Times, “the image has been shared widely in military circles, with claims the women are supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.”

Related Story: Black Women at West Point Accused of Being ‘Political’

The Army Times received the photo 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.

It was determined the photo was among several taken in a spur-of-the-moment intention to demonstrate “unity” and “pride,” according to the findings of the inquiry.

A letter written by Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen Jr., academy superintendent, said the inquiry determined the photo did not solely represent political activism, and raised or “clenched” fists have been used by other cadets and even himself.

“Some have suggested that this photo solely represents political activism. The inquiry determined that this is not the case and the Commandant and I accept that finding,” he wrote.

“Groups at West Point have used the clenched-fists in the past year to represent support for a team, or pride in serving the Army and Nation. For instance last July, the class of 2019 spontaneously raised their fist in pride upon the playing of the Army Strong song during the Fourth of July concert.

Last December, on the night before the Army-Navy game, I joined hundreds of staff and graduates in raising our fist in support of the Army football team during the Army-Navy pep rally video. The time, place and manner of a symbol can also hold significant and influence perception.”

There was no violation of DOD Directive 1344.10, the findings state: ” based upon available evidence none of the participants, through their actions, intended to show support for a political movement.”

“As members of the Profession of Arms, we are held to a high standard, where our actions are constantly observed and scrutinized in the public domain,” Caslen also wrote. “We all must understand that a symbol or gesture that one group of people may find harmless may offend others. As Army officers, we are not afforded the luxury of a lack of awareness of how we are perceived.”

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