Last Friday, a 27-year-old transgender woman named Layleen Polanco was found unresponsive in a cell in Riker’s Island in New York City. Although attempts were made to revive her, she was pronounced dead at 3:45 p.m.

Polanco’s cause of death has not yet been revealed, though Aja Worthy-Davis, Executive Director for Public Affairs at the New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner, told Rolling Stone that she did not appear to have been the victim of physical trauma and that the department is “performing additional toxicology and medical examinations to identify other possible factors.” Due to the mysterious circumstances surrounding Polanco’s death — as well as the fact that she was reportedly the 10th black transgender woman found dead in the United States in 2019 alone — LGBTQ activists have been vocal in protesting her death, demanding answers from Mayor Bill DeBlasio and calling for the immediate closure of Rikers Island.

Additional details that surfaced about Polanco’s death were even more heartbreaking. Polanco was being held in Rikers on failure to pay $500 bail resulting from bench warrants — warrants that are issued when an individual does not appear in court — related to an August 2017 arrest. The arrest was the result of an NYPD sting investigation after Polanco allegedly agreed to perform oral sex on an undercover officer in exchange for money. She was arrested for misdemeanor prostitution and a low-level drug possession offense.

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How the tragic Death of Layleen Polanco exposes horrors of criminalizing Sex Work by EJ Dickson

June 13th, 2019