Fierce

Transgender Afro-Latina Layleen Polanco Was Found Dead In Prison And Her Family Is Demanding Answers

The family of Layleen Polanco, a transgender Afro-Latina who was found dead in her prison cell at Rikers Island last week, is demanding answers.

On June 7, Polanco, 27, was declared dead after her body was found unresponsive in her cell at the Rose M. Singer Center, a dedicated unit for women, the Washington Post reports. It is still unclear how the woman, of House Xtravaganza, died.

According to the news outlet, a medical staff member attempted to revive Polanco using CPR and a defibrillator around 2:50 p.m. By 3:45 p.m., she was pronounced dead. The Correction Department, which has yet to release a cause of death, said that she did not die as “the result of violence or foul play.”

“This is a tragic loss and we extend our deepest condolences to her family,” Department of Correction Commissioner Cynthia Brann told the Post in a statement.

The New York City medical examiner’s office is currently investigating Polanco’s death, but the late woman’s family said the state has not been helpful in providing them with much answers.

“We are heartbroken over the death of our beloved Layleen, whose bright light was an inspiration to all who knew her,” Polanco’s family said in a statement. “As we gather to mourn this tremendous loss, we are left shocked and outraged by the stony silence from the Department of Correction, Mayor’s Office, NYPD, and City government. The family demands answers, and we are entitled to them.”

Polanco’s death comes during LGBTQ Pride month, a time to commemorate the Stonewall riots that sparked the rise of the gay liberation movement and today’s fight for LGBTQ rights, and just nine days after New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a monument honoring pioneering transgender women of color activists Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, who led the Stonewall uprising.

“Just days ago, Mayor de Blasio dedicated a monument to two pioneering transgender activists, telling the trans community that ‘we are sending a clear message: We see you…and we will protect you.’ The City failed to protect Layleen, and now it is trying to sweep her death under the rug. We will not allow it,” Polanco’s family said.

Her death also underlines activists’ calls to decriminalize sex work. According to the Rolling Stone, Polanco, who was scheduled to be released on June 13, was being held in Rikers on failure to pay $500 bail resulting from bench warrants — warrants that are issued when an individual does not appear in court — related to her arrest in August 2017. She was apprehended for misdemeanor prostitution and a low-level drug possession offense after allegedly agreeing to perform oral sex on an undercover officer in exchange for money during an NYPD sting investigation.

The details, or lack thereof, surrounding Polanco’s death has caused outcry on social media, with politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who decried her loss of life and said her family “deserves to know what happened to her,” and Decrim NY, an organization lobbying for a bill introduced this week that would decriminalize sex work in New York state, to speak out.

“We urgently need to decriminalize sex work now — actually decriminalize sex work, not just more reforms that widen the net and tie people up in the legal system — to protect our TGNC communities of color who rely on the sex trade to survive,” said Jessica Peñaranda, Decrim NY Steering Committee member and director of Movement Building at the Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center. “We cannot have another death. Not one more.”

Polanco is the 10th Black transgender woman found dead in the country since January 2019.

Read: Bamby Salcedo Turned Her Experience As A Trans Latina Immigrant Into A National Organization

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