Protestors Demand Justice For Trans Woman Found Dead At Rikers Island

Hundreds of activists demonstrated in New York City on Monday evening demanding justice for a trans woman found dead in her cell at Rikers Island.

Layleen Cubilette-Polanco, 27, was found dead at the Rose M. Singer Center on Friday, 11 days before a scheduled court date. She was being detained on $500 bail on a misdemeanor charge.

News of the death alarmed activists in New York City.

“Come out to Foley Square NYC,” tweeted Chase Strangio, ACLU attorney and trans rights activist. “Shut down our murderous jails.”

The New York City Anti-Violence Project in a press release tied Polanco’s death a string and deaths of trans women of color nationwide, including a Salvadoran refugee who died this month in ICE custody.

“Polanco was being held due to a few missed court dates as part of the services she was mandated to in an alternative to incarceration program,” the release reads.

“Furthermore, she was being punished with solitary confinement even though officials at Rikers knew she had a serious medical condition that caused life-threatening seizures.”

The New York Department of Correction has denied there were any signs of violence or foul play in Polanco’s death.

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

“We are conducting a full investigation as the safety and well-being of people in our custody is our top priority.”

But family members want more.

“We are heartbroken over the death of our beloved Layleen, whose bright light was an inspiration to all who knew her,” reads a statement released by Polanco’s family.

“As we gather to mourn this tremendous loss, we are left shocked and outraged by the story silence from the Department of Correction, mayor’s office, NYPD and city government.”

Members of Polanco’s family, including sister Melania Brown, mother Arecelis Polanco and brother Salomon Cubilette, attended the Foley Square demonstration.

Corrections officials say an autopsy will not be released for another 12 weeks.

Activists, meanwhile, want to see Rikers closed.

“We have a lot of unanswered questions, but one thing we know is that Layleen Polanco Xtravaganza should not have died in a cell at Rikers Island,” said Beverly Tillery, executive director of the New York City Anti-Violence Project.

“Our community came together to demand a thorough, fully transparent investigation and an end to the conditions that turned a misdemeanor offense into a death sentence.”

Rikers Island treatment of LGBTQ inmates has come under scrutiny for years. The prison did open a dorm specifically for trans individuals in 2014, several years after closing a similar facility.


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