Activists rally, demand answers after transgender woman’s Rikers death

Posted: Updated:
MANHATTAN -

Dozens of transgender activists rallied in Lower Manhattan Monday to demand answers after a transgender woman originally from Yonkers was found dead in her cell at Rikers Island.

The New York City Department of Correction says 27-year-old Layleen Polanco, a transgender woman, was found unresponsive in her cell in the women's facility at Rikers Island around 2:40 p.m. Friday.

"The first time I heard about it was this morning, which makes me think the response was delayed. And we see that a lot in the trans community, especially trans women of color," says Judy Troilo, executive director of The Loft.

DOC custodial staff performed CPR before a medical team arrived. Polanco was pronounced dead just over an hour later. News 12 is told she had an illness that caused sudden seizures.

The cause of death has not yet been determined, but according to the DOC it was not the result of violence.

The DOC also says preliminary reports show no signs of foul play, but it is conducting a full investigation.

Polanco's family started a GoFundMe page to raise money for her funeral. They issued a statement through their lawyer, saying in part, "We will not allow Layleen's death to be swept under the rug."

The Gorton High School graduate had been arrested in mid-April for allegedly assaulting a cab driver in Harlem and possessing a controlled substance.

Troilo is concerned about a possible double standard in how the system treated Polanco. Supporters say there is no doubt Polanco was treated the way she was because she was a black transgender woman.

The group demanded Mayor Bill de Blasio and other New York City officials shut down Rikers Island.

According to Polanco's sister, she was due to be released from Rikers Island in about a week.

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