Hundreds rally for Layleen Polanco at Manhattan Criminal Courthouse

Polanco’s sister Melania Brown speaks to the crowd at Foley Square on Monday evening.  Eagle  photos by Phineas Rueckert.

Polanco’s sister Melania Brown speaks to the crowd at Foley Square on Monday evening. Eagle photos by Phineas Rueckert.

By Phineas Rueckert

A low fog hung over the Manhattan Criminal Courthouse as activists, friends and family members gathered to remember the life of Layleen Polanco, a 27-year-old trans woman found dead at Rikers Island last week.

Advocates called on the Department of Correction to fully investigate the circumstances behind Polanco’s death.

Polanco’s lawyer, David Shanies, speaking at the rally, said that Polanco had known medical issues, including a history of seizures, and had been placed in solitary confinement while at Rikers — calling into question the nature of her treatment while in detention.  

“They treated my sister like she was nothing because of how she decided to be happy,” Polanco’s sister Melania Brown told the crowd, fighting back tears. “I just want justice for her … I’m trying to use my pain as my fuel to keep going.”

A man holds a sign at Monday’s rally for Layleen Polanco.

A man holds a sign at Monday’s rally for Layleen Polanco.

Polanco was arrested for allegedly attempting to bite a cab driver and had been held on $500 bail, The City reported.

In April of this year, New York City passed a sweeping bail reform bill that will go into effect in January 2020. “Had that law been in effect, she wouldn’t have been [at Rikers],” Shanies said.

A number of activists and members of the House of Xtravaganza, a ballroom subculture popular among members of the LGBTQIA+ community, spoke at the rally to demand justice for Polanco.

The Eagle will provide updates as the investigation into Polanco’s death continues.