On June 7, 27-year-old transgender woman named Layleen Polanco was found dead in her cell in Rikers Island. She was in solitary confinement and incarcerated for because was being held on $500 bail due to prostitution and lowest-level drug possession charges dating back to 2017.
No one knows why she died and her family is speaking out.
The 27-year-old’s family members released a statement saying that “the city failed to protect Layleen, and now it is trying to sweep her death under the rug.” They also added, “We will not allow it.”
See the full statement below:
Officials have said there were no signs of foul play, which seemed to imply she killed herself, the same narrative that was put out there about Sandra Bland. According to ABC News, at a rally yesterday, Polacano’s friend Christina Vengerovsky said, “Layleen would never kill herself because at times during my depression, she would always tell me that’s one thing God will never forgive you for and neither will I.”
Melanie Brown, Polacano’s sister added, “My sister was very strong, that’s one thing, She didn’t believe in death. She did not believe in dying.” There is a GoFundMe campaign for Polacano’s funeral, which was started by her sister.
Layleen is was part of the Black and Latino ballroom scene, which is a subculture that has people from various houses, who operate like families, that compete in fashion, beauty and dance. Layleen was a part of this scene and known as Layleen Xtravaganza. Indya Moore, who stars in the FX series “Pose” (second season premiers tonight), wrote on Twitter, “I grew up looking to Layleen as my goal. She was one of the most beautiful women I ever seen who was trans. She and so many other girls were an example to me. She was a member of my house, Xtravaganza. She died in her cell in Rikers. 10th trans woman.”
See Moore speak at a rally for Layleen below:
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez wrote on Twitter, “No human being should be tortured by or in the United States. 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.”
Transwomen of color face violence at a higher whether on the street or incarcerated.
A report from the Human Rights Campaign said that 2018 was the second consecutive year that more than two-dozen members of the transgender community were known to have been killed. At least 26 transgender people were killed in 2018, the majority of them Black transgender women. Since 2013, there have been 128 killings of transgender people, of whom 80 percent were people of color.
The actual number of transgender victims was not clear. Physical attacks, harassment and sexual assaults against transgender people are often underreported. Added to the problem, police often identify victims by their birth gender instead of their self-identified gender.
Rest in power, Layleen Polanco