Hundreds rally, demand justice for transgender woman found dead in Rikers Island cell

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ByLucy Yang via WABC logo
Tuesday, June 11, 2019
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Lucy Yang reports on the rally held for a transgender woman who died at Rikers Island.

LOWER MANHATTAN (WABC) -- Hundreds of protesters rallied in Foley Square Monday night to demand justice for a transgender woman who died at Rikers Island.

27-year-old Layleen Polanco was being held at Riker's Island when she died suddenly in her cell Saturday afternoon.

"We are worthy of legal aid, liberty, justice, resources and we are worthy of life, we are worthy of love," a speaker at the rally said.

Officials initially reported there were no signs of violence or foul play, but those who knew Layleen argue she would not have taken her own life.

"Layleen would never kill herself because at times during my depression, she would always tell me that's one thing God will never forgive you for and neither will I," her friend Christina Vengerovsky said.

"My sister was very strong, that's one thing. She didn't believe in death. She did not believe in dying," Layleen's sister Melania Brown said.

While the medical examiner works on the exact cause of death, Polanco's family is not waiting. They have already hired a civil rights attorney

"She had a number of medical issues including a serious seizure disorder," attorney David Shanies said. "We do know that she certainly was not in a condition were she should've been left alone, unmonitored to die alone in the cell."

Eyewitness News is told Polanco had epilepsy and had recently been hospitalized.

She was also due in court shortly to answer to charges of alleged prostitution, possession of a controlled substance and assaulting a cab driver.

"Layleen was loving, caring, would take her shirt off her back to give you," Brown said.


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