A 27-year-old Afro-Latinx transgender woman called Layleen Polanco was found dead in her cell at the prison on Rikers Island, New York, on Friday (June 7) afternoon.
Layleen Polanco was arrested on April 16 for allegedly assaulting a taxi driver and being in possession of a controlled substance in Harlem, New York.
She was found unresponsive in her cell on Friday (June 7) at around 2.40pm by an officer conducting a tour of the Rose M. Singer Centre – the part of the prison on Rikers Island that houses female inmates.
Prison officers performed CPR until medical staff arrived around 10 minutes later. Medics then spent an hour trying to revive her before pronouncing her dead.
Polanco is the 10th trans woman to be found dead in the US this year.
Her death comes just days after it was announced that a new monument would commemorate Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Riveira, two trans activists, in New York.
In a statement, her family said, “We are heartbroken over the death of our beloved Layleen, whose bright light was an inspiration to all who knew her,” adding that the city “failed to protect Layleen.”
“The family demands answers and we are entitled to them,” the statement said.
Polanco was a member of the House of Xtravanganza, which was founded in 1982 and became publicly recognised after featuring in the 1991 documentary Paris is Burning. House of Xtravanganza emerged from the New York underground ballroom scene.
Janet Mock, who directed Pose – an FX series about the 1980s ballroom scene in New York – said, “Heartbroken and enraged from the harsh reality that Layleen Polanco, who was incarcerated on Rikers Island.”
“Folks are gathering Monday in NYC and collecting donations to help lay her to rest. We need to check and challenge anyone seeking to police our bodies, genders, and identities. Rest in power, Layleen,” Mock said.
Indya Moore, who stars in Pose, said 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,” Moore said.
On Sunday (June 9), people marched in New York demanding that the government “close Rikers now.”
<p dir=«ltr» lang=«en» xml:lang=«en»>Last night we marched for #LayleenPolanco and all our Black & Latinx LGBTQ+ and GNC family.
None of them should be in NYC jails. Not one more should die in a cell.
— No New Jails NYC (@nonewjails_nyc) June 9, 2019
Audacia Ray, director of community organising and public advocacy at The Anti Violence Project in New York, said, “It’s Pride Month. The NYPD apologised for Stonewall, but they are still locking up trans women for surviving. On Friday that resulted in the death of #LayleenPolanco. Join us at a rally on Monday to raise our voices against this violence and demand #Justice4Layleen”
The Anti Violence Project is organising a rally in New York on Monday (June 10) to demand justice for Polanco.
A fundraiser for her funeral costs can be found here.