They said they were Black Panthers, and they looked the part with all-black attire and black berets adorned with a cat-head patch. Their leader was a tall, thin black woman armed with an assault rifle and a determined look. Photos of the group popped up in local news outlets, including The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, but also in the British tabloid press.
“Armed female Black Panther leads her comrades including a white recruit on a march through Georgia,” The Daily Mail wrote in an online story about the June 3 demonstration Decatur. The story featured several dramatic photos and embedded Instagram posts.
It is easy to see why the group attracted attention. In a moment of fury over police shootings of black people, the group was perfectly cast. Maybe too perfect.
Within a few days, an activist on Twitter sussed out that the group was comprised of models and actors from Atlanta’s film and entertainment industries. A Twitter user who goes by Wolf The Red identified them from their Instagram accounts where he found the group modeling haute couture or publicizing their film credits, but “zero prior demonstrations. No posts with guns. No calls to action.”
I finally had a break through with some help when I found the white dudes Instagram. I was able to track down a handful of them through him and came to a hilariously depressing conclusion. https://t.co/0255xGv93whttps://t.co/KVk468aYsUhttps://t.co/qjOX8gIsFK pic.twitter.com/Gc52dNXoCq
— 🛡Wolf The Red🗡✊🏿 (@WolfTheRed) June 9, 2020
A group of Atlanta-area models and actors dressed as Black Panthers pose for a photo on the Decatur Square after a march and rally Wednesday afternoon, June 3, 2020. Members of the group say their intent was genuine, even if the outfits weren’t.
The AJC reached out to members of the group, including Whitney Oni, the striking woman who drew so much attention. Oni, an Atlanta-based graphic designer and model, said the recent protests were not her first time taking to the streets.
“I started back with the Trayvon Martin case,” she said, referring to the 2012 shooting death of the Florida teenager by a neighborhood watch coordinator in a gated community.
After the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers last month, Oni said she believed it was “important to use my voice.”
And to dress the part.
“The outfits? We just pulled inspiration from (the Black Panthers),” she said. “It was mostly black and leather — pleather. Some of us are vegans, vegetarians.”
– Chris Joyner in Dressed the part, ‘Panther’ group came straight from central casting