- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The 16 black West Point cadets who caused a stir after posing for a photograph with raised fists won’t be disciplined over the image, the U.S. Military Academy said Tuesday.

An internal investigation launched after the snapshot surfaced online has ended with authorities deciding not to discipline the cadets, but to offer them additional counseling ahead of their graduation on May 21, West Point’s superintendent, Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen Jr., said in a letter to the academy‘s student body this week.

“While the inquiry did not find that these cadets violated a policy or regulation, it did determine that they demonstrated a lapse of awareness in how symbols and gestures can be misinterpreted and cause division,” he wrote on Tuesday to the Corps of Cadets. “The impact of this photo, regardless of its intent, is evident. It is unfortunate that this perception brought attention to our Alma Mater for all the wrong reasons.”

West Point confirmed last week that an investigation was launched amid concerns raised by the photograph, which shows 16 female members of the Military Academy‘s Class of 2016 posing in uniform on school property with their fists raised in the air.

The photograph quickly went viral, thanks largely to critics who accused the cadets of raising their fists to show support for Black Lives Matter, a protest movement created in 2012 in response to violence suffered by African-Americans, especially at the hands of law enforcement.

John Burk, an U.S. Army veteran who runs a popular fitness website, amplified calls for an investigation last week with a blog post that claimed the cadets had violated a Department of Defense directive that prohibits enlisted members from engaging in “partisan political activity” while in uniform.

“This overt display of the Black Lives Matter movement is not, in itself, wrong per say [sic], but to do so while in uniform is completely unprofessional and not in keeping with what the USMA stands for,” he wrote on his “In the Arena” website.

The subsequent investigation determined that the photograph was taken April 26 during an “Old Corps” photo shoot — “a long-held tradition at the Academy,” according to Brenda Sue Fulton, a West Point grad who currently chairs the academy‘s Board of Visitors.

“Different teams and groups get together on their own to mimic the high-collar, ultra-serious, photos of 19th century cadets,” she told Army Times recently.

The academy opened its investigation two days after the photograph was taken and determined the cadets’ actions were “inappropriate,” albeit not in violation of DOD policy.

“I recommend all future ‘Old Corps’ photographs be reviewed by the West Point public affairs office prior to release to any cadet or outside agency,” the academy‘s investigator concluded.

“As members of the profession of arms, we are held to a higher standard, where our actions are constantly observed and scrutinized in the public domain,” Gen. Caslen wrote. “We all must understand that a symbol or gesture that one group of people may find harmless may offend others.”

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