The Demand For Justice For Layleen Polanco
The mystery surrounding the 27-year-old transgender womans death
The ‘mystery’ surrounding this beautiful transwoman’s death has not been taken lightly, and justice is being demanded by social activists and LBGTQ+ organizations.
On June 7th, 2019, Layleen Polanco was found unresponsive in her solitary confinement cell, and there are still no reports determining how exactly she passed. Reportedly her death was reported an hour after a prison officer “noticed she was unconscious”. She was in the women’s jail on Rikers Island, which is named as one of the largest correctional institutions in the world. In Rikers, she was in a unit for transgender women but got moved to solitary as a punishment for allegedly taking part in a fight.
According to the Washington Post, a custodial member of staff made an attempt to revive her using CPR and a defibrillator before medics arrived on the scene; she was pronounced dead around 3:45 pm.
The Department of Correction released a short statement via Twitter on June 8th, 2019 stating: “We take this matter extremely seriously. We have so far determined the death was not the result of violence or foul play. We will share more information as we determine the cause”
The Department is investigating the tragic death of a transgender female detainee in our custody. We take this matter extremely seriously. We have so far determined the death was not the result of violence or foul play. We will share more information as we determine the cause.— NYC DOC (@CorrectionNYC) June 8, 2019
Inmate records show that Layleen had been arrested on April 13th, 2019 and detained since April 16th on misdemeanor charges of assault and criminal possession of a controlled substance.
The Legal Aid Society who were representing Layleen Polanco at the time, released a heartbreaking statement stating:
“Ms. Polanco’s passing is a tragic reminder of the heightened risk and physical and emotional torture that transgender people - especially those from communities of color - face in the criminal legal system, particularly while in custody. Her heartbreaking and untimely death warrants a swift, complete, independent, and transparent investigation from the City. We join New Yorkers in demanding justice for Ms. Polanco, her family, and for her community.”
Layleen’s family also released a statement through their lawyers on Twitter, this continued the fight for justice with the family stating: “The family demands answers, and we are entitled to them”.
A statement from the family of #LayleenPolanco@antiviolence @womensmarch @SRLP @chasestrangio @IndyaMoore @janetmock @tracelysette @JailsAction @elielcruz @AudaciaRay @CloseRosies @nonewjails_nyc @NYCAIC @NYCmayor @CorrectionNYC @AOC @CoreyinNYC @NYCCouncil @VOCALNewYork pic.twitter.com/o934G1X1d4— Shanies Law Office (@ShaniesLaw) June 9, 2019
Well, known activists like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted about the lack of information surrounding Layleen’s death and her disgust towards solitary confinement as a punishment in federal facilities:
No human being should be tortured by or in the United States.— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) June 11, 2019
That means NO ONE should be kept in solitary confinement.
Layleen Polanco was, and now she’s gone - all for $500 bail + low lvl offense.#CloseRikers#AbolishSolitary#EndCashBail#DecriminalizePoverty#EndWarOnDrugs https://t.co/3p9bcXg8HB
No New Jails NYC is a “multiracial, intergeneration network - calling for the immediate closure of Rikers without building new jails - calling for massive investment to address the needs of communities targeted by criminalization”.
Monday evening in New York City the organization held a march for Layleen Polanco and other LGBTQ+ people of color, chanting through the streets “Close Rikers Now, No New Jails”.
The New York City Anti-Violence Project has been assisting the family with planning vigils, marches and calling for justice and answers. A Facebook event for a vigil was planned for Monday evening, stating in the event's details “Enough is enough. We know that trans and gender non-conforming folks are not safe in the system. It's past time to close Rikers”.
What You Can Do:
Layleen’s sister Melania has set up a GoFundMe to help cover funeral costs and more for the family. She writes on the page “We will make sure her story is heard after we find out what happened. Please helps us lay her to rest. This was a very unexpected death and a big loss to her family and friends”