A group of female cadets at the United States Military Academy in New York state are under review for possibly violating Department of Defense policy after they were pictured in uniform displaying raised fists. The image of the 16 black woman posing outside Army barracks has prompted debate about whether they were supporting the Black Lives Matter social justice movement and engaging in partisan political activity while in uniform. 

“We can confirm that the cadets in this photo are members of the U.S. Military Academy's Class of 2016,” West Point’s director of public affairs, Lt. Col. Christopher Kasker, said in an emailed statement to Army Times this week. “Academy officials are conducting an inquiry into the matter."

Critics complain the raised fist is a symbol of support for Black Lives Matter, although it is widely used in social justice movements, including among labor unions and suffragists, as well as formerly by the Black Panther Party. The West Point cadets have been accused of violating Department of Defense Directive 1344.10, Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces, which warns: "Members on active duty should not engage in partisan political activity, and ... members not on active duty should avoid inferences that their political activities imply or appear to imply official sponsorship, approval or endorsement."

Black Lives Matter was created in 2012 following the death of Trayvon Martin, the Florida teenager who was fatally shot by neighborhood watch crime captain George Zimmerman. The Black Lives Matter website describes its mission as a “chapter-based national organization working for the validity of Black life. We are working to (re)build the Black liberation movement.” 

The student body at West Point is about 8 percent black and 70 percent white. Academy officials have said in recent years they would like to expand diversity at the elite school. About 22.5 percent of enlisted troops are black. The school is also looking to increase its female student population from 17 percent to at least 20 percent. The academy requires applicants to have a nomination from a member of Congress as part of the admissions process. 

Army Times said it received the photo Wednesday from several offended readers. The female cadets have not been identified.