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The 27-year-old Afro-Latinx trans woman was reportedly found unresponsive in the early afternoon on June 7 by an officer doing a tour of the Rose M. Singer Center, which houses the female inmates on Rikers Island. Officers attempted to revive Polanco with CPR, and then medics stepped in to try. After an hour, she was pronounced dead.
Polanco had been arrested on April 16 for allegedly assaulting a taxi driver in Harlem and being in possession of a controlled substance. When she was found dead on Friday, she had been in prison for over two months. The cause of death is not yet known, but many people are blaming the people running the prison for not preventing her death. The Anti-Violence Project, an organization which is trying to end anti-LGBTQ and HIV-targeted violence, organized a rally on Monday to demand justice and answers.
“The NYPD apologized for Stonewall, but they are still locking up trans women for surviving,” wrote Audacia Ray, executive director of the Anti-Violence Project, on Twitter. “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.”
Others are also using the #LayleenPolanco and #Justice4Layleen tag to protest the circumstances surrounding the death of Polanco, and some folks are sharing their memories of her. Polanco was a member of the LGBTQ collective the House of Xtravanganza, which was founded in the early 1980s out of the New York underground ballroom scene. Members of Xtravanganza assisted with and appeared on the FX series Pose.
“I grew up looking to Layleen as my goal,” Pose star Indya Moore tweeted. “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.”
#LayleenPolanco a trans woman found dead inside a #RikersIsland jail cell this week honored at #BrooklynPride Thank you @ItoNinja1 for the image #SayHerName #AbolishPrisons #AllPrisonsAreTransphobic #CloseRikers #NoNewJailsNYC pic.twitter.com/QkhymQukSm— Benji Hart (@radfagg) June 8, 2019
#Justice4Layleen. Thank you for sharing this @IndyaMoore. I’m holding space for Black & Brown trans women who are forced to witness the extinguishing of our sisters on a near daily basis. #ProtectTransWomen— Blair Imani (@BlairImani) June 9, 2019
Read Indya’s post here: https://t.co/VHepgcMo6Q pic.twitter.com/Zh7Vzk0FhG
By the time of writing, a GoFundMe for Polanco’s funeral costs had exceeded its $9,000 goal and raised $12,000.
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Alex Dalbey is a writer and zinester currently living in Saint Paul, Minnesota. They have written for The Daily Dot, Kill Screen, The Lingerie Addict, and Bullet Points.