Cleveland news coverage of transwoman’s murder angers family who lost a loved one
Police record, mug shot, transgender bashing language about murder victim criticized as worse than words used to describe murder suspect
CLEVELAND, OH – Cemia “CeCe” Dove had a “government” name she didn’t use but for official business. Carl Edward Acoff, Jr.
Since stories about men who decide to live as women are “sensational” according to Cleveland news standards, the Betty Boop t-shirt and three bras that Dove’s body was clothed in when it was found gets mentioned in the story reporters wrote and broadcast about her. They also make it a point to call her a “man” to tease readers and television viewers to keep reading and watching. Cleveland.com told its readers that Dove was “oddly dressed.”
For good measure and an extra kick to the ratings, reporters used the word “transvestite” to describe Dove as something she wasn’t. The goal is an old school media tactic designed to make her sound like a sexual deviant. According to the Wikipedia definition of “transvestite,” the word is a “clinical term that carry potentially negative connotations or implications of mental illness.”
“Police confirm Acoff was a member of the transgender/transvestite community,” WOIO TV19 posted on its website.
The first sentence in the lead of this article gives away the premise behind it. Acoff lived the life of a transgendered young woman who used the name Cemia Dove, and she was an American citizen who is alleged to have been murdered by Andre L. Bridges, 36, of Parma, Ohio. Bridges was arrested by FBI special agents on May 4.
Dove went missing on March 27 and was found decomposing, half nude and tied to a concrete block and steel pipe in Olmsted Township creek on MacKenzie Road near Cook Road on April 17, 2013. She’d been stabbed so many times relatives said Cuyahoga county’s medical examiner couldn’t count all the wounds.
Dove’s family is upset for a variety of reasons, and her mother, Martha Acoff, refuses to talk to reporters who she knows only want to exploit her transgendered son’s murder.
News of her death made headlines but not a single reporter thought to alert the public that Dove had gone missing on March 27. Reporters poured through Cleveland municipal court records to get the official version of encounters she had with city and Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (RTA) police officers. None thought to explore the nuances of each encounter to better explain them to news consumers.
Yes “Acoff” was convicted of spraying mace at a man on an RTA bus, but it didn’t matter to authorities that she was using it to defend an 8-year-old girl who’d been accosted by a male passenger, and who she tried to help said cousin Nicole Cantie.
“They just assumed she was wrong because of the way she was dressed,” Cantie said. Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Judge Stuart A. Friedman added extra punishment to his 100 day jail sentence by ordering Dove to stay off RTA buses.
The “dangerous drugs” she was convicted of possessing without a prescription were synthetic female hormones. They are used by transitioning male-to-female transsexual’s to increase breasts size, soften skin, redistribute body fat, reduce facial hair and shrink the penis.
Female hormones are easily attainable without a prescription from any online pharmacy that mails them directly to homes. They’re not crack or heroin, but Dove got 100 days in jail from a Cleveland municipal court magistrate in 2012.
And why just share public records or news that create such an unsavory image of a murder victim, Cantie wonders? Other public records show “Acoff” as being a registered voter and living in a nearly 1500 square foot single family home with three bedrooms and two baths on Rondel Avenue near Kiplinger in the Collinwood neighborhood.
If the Plain Dealer’s John Caniglia can author a story about Dove that carries a compassionate headline of her searching for acceptance, the question Cantie and other family members want answers to is why it concentrated only on court records, and then used a picture of a mug shot when better photos were available on her Facebook profile?
If “Acoff’s” encounters with law enforcement authorities is relevant, then is it equally relevant to share encounters reporters like Brent Larkin, Elizabeth Sullivan, Mark Naymik and Carl Monday had with Cleveland cops for speeding and other offenses when stories are associated with their names? How relevant is it that Larkin was caught driving with fictitious plates or that his fellow reporter, Stan Donaldson, drove in Mahoning County with a suspended license?
“Who are we to judge anybody?” Cantie told Cleveland Challenger. “Men, women, gays, transsexuals, we’re all God’s people. The transgendered people have to be really careful. The world treats them in a bad way. They already have a hard life, most of their families turn against them. CeCe’s family didn’t turn against him.”
The media’s sordid coverage of Dove’s murder and the arrest of Bridges generated a sense of anger from American transwomen and gay rights activists, particularly since the victim was more smeared by reporters than the man who allegedly murdered her.
Writer, speaker and transgender social activist Monica Roberts, a former Cleveland native and owner of a blogsite called Transgriot, took issue with the media dehumanization of Dove and said so to the Plain Dealer about Caniglia’s story.
“The two articles you wrote sure do leave readers (especially in the trans community) with the impression that you don’t care about or think transwomen, and especially African-American transwomen don’t deserve dignity even in death. You damned sure left no room for doubt to local, national and international trans readers and our allies how you felt or whether you even cared about the victim.
“It’s obvious you haven’t heard of the AP Stylebook guidelines on how to RESPECTFULLY report on transgender people, so let’s go over them … shall we?
Transgender: Use the pronoun preferred by the individuals who have acquired the physical characteristics of the opposite sex or present themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth.
If that preference is not expressed, use the pronoun consistent with the way the individuals live publicly.
These guidelines have been in effect since 2001, so I’d love to hear your excuses for how not one but TWO transphobic stories you signed your name to (and your editor allowed) got published.
Cantie said Dove’s family now has closure since the FBI stepped in to help track down Bridges. What was originally thought to be a hate crime, might have actually been a staged robbery. Dove was known to carry a lot of money, she said.
A source told Cleveland Challenger that Dove was taken to a party in North Olmsted and made to get drunk. She was hit in the head with a blunt object and awakened to learn that she had been tied up before being stabbed to death and her body weighted down and dumped.
No one in the family knew Bridges although Cantie said two men who knew “CeCe” visited her mother’s home to say they heard she was dead. One of the men showed up at Dove’s funeral, which threatened to turn ugly since he was known to have previously stolen money from her.
Cantie said Dove’s murder was particularly hard on the family since they’d just buried another relative on April 15th, who had also been a stabbing murder victim.
Cleveland’s gay activist leaders might want to stop sending out mixed signals about what’s tolerable behavior or not. East Cleveland Mayor Gary Norton was awarded by gay rights leaders after he obtained stolen pictures of an opponent dressed in women’s clothing and used them in a homophobic campaign to win an election in 2009.