Letter to New York City and State: #Justice4Layleen Demands

AVP Contact:
Audacia Ray, Director of Community Organizing and Public Advocacy
aray@avp.org, 212-714-1184 x 18

Media Contact:
Eliel Cruz, Director of Communications
ecruz@avp.org, 212-714-1184 x 26

Dear Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio,

We, the undersigned organizations have come together in response to the tragic death of Layleen Xtravanganza Cubilette-Polanco who died while being held on $500 bail in the Rose M. Singer Center at Rikers Island on June 7, 2019; she is one of 10 Black transgender women to die from individually targeted or state-sanctioned violence so far this year. After the historic commitments made by New York State to end cash bail and New York City to close Rikers Island, her death is unconscionable. Layleen’s death is the result of delayed changes to the criminal legal system and the terrible convergence of city and state carceral policies that disregard the humanity of trans women of color and criminalize their survival.

The New York City Anti-Violence Project (AVP) is currently working closely with Polanco’s family and demand action from both the city and the state so that Polanco’s family can get answers about the circumstances of her death and seek justice, and to ensure that the conditions that led to her death are remedied. We ask you to take immediate steps to see that the following happen.


On the city level:

  • The Chief Medical Examiner’s Office must expedite the results of Layleen Cubilette-Polanco’s autopsy. They initially told Layleen’s family they must wait up to 12 weeks for answers about the cause of her death. This is unacceptable for any family.
  • New York City Council must pass Intro No. 1535-A and the Mayor must sign it into law immediately. This local law will establish a task force to review the Department of Correction’s (DOC) policies related to the treatment and housing of transgender, gender non-conforming, non-binary (TGNCNB), and intersex individuals in DOC custody.
  • New York City must commit to massive, citywide decarceration that significantly reduces the number of people in jail, divests from incarceration as a solution, and reinvests resources in the Black and Latinx communities most harmed by over-policing and incarceration.
  • In the wake of Polanco’s death, Rikers has reported that it has emptied the women’s solitary unit; it must remain empty until all the jail facilities on Rikers Island are closed. The DOC must stop isolating TGNCNB people in de facto “solitary confinement” while claiming it’s for their own safety. Solitary confinement isn’t just a designated space within a jail, it is the intentional isolation of a person away from general population.


On the state level:

  • New York State must pass HALT Solitary Confinement Act to end the torture of solitary confinement, including ceasing the operation of the restrictive housing units where Polanco was detained.
  • New York State’s newly passed bail reform legislation goes into effect on January 1, 2020 but District Attorneys and judges can and should stop setting bail immediately. Polanco would not have been held on bail in 2020, and she should not have been held on bail this year. The State must also go further. Although New York’s elected leaders committed to the complete end of money bail, the legislation passed in April did not eliminate money bail on all charges. New York State must commit to the next stage of bail reform to end money bail and protect pretrial liberty for all people, regardless of charge.
  • New York State must pass legislation that decriminalizes sex work, and must cease operating the court-mandated services of the Human Trafficking Intervention Courts, which pose as a compassionate alternative to incarceration but keep survivors of violence court-involved and vulnerable to re-criminalization. Polanco missed court dates as part of this alternative to incarceration and was detained as a result. The provision of services should not be mandated and must not lead to incarceration.


Finally, New York City and State must invest significant resources in the health and well-being of trans, gender non-conforming, and non-binary (TGNCNB)  Black, Latinx, and people of color. This requires a multi-pronged approach, including: funding health care programs and utilizing regulatory power to guarantee affirming care related both to medical transition and all care unrelated to transition; creation of housing that is safe and affordable for TGNCNB people; employment programs for TGNCNB people of all ages, and other economic justice programs.

Addressing the needs of Black, Latinx, and people of color TGNCNB communities is an ongoing conversation that has to center their voices. We hope that the Mayor’s Office and the Governor’s Office will schedule meetings with impacted communities in order to move forward on more inclusive policy and legislation


The New York City Anti-Violence Project


Sylvia Rivera Law Project

Association of Legal Aid Attorneys LGBTQ Caucus

The Bronx Defenders


The Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center

The Legal Aid Society

Transgender Law Center

Make the Road New York


Peter Cicchino Youth Project (PCYP) of the Urban Justice Center

Girls for Gender Equity

Desis Rising Up & Moving



Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund


Global Action Youth Project


The LGBT Community Center

NYC Jails Action Committee

Center for Constitutional Rights

Brooklyn Defender Services

Decrim NY

Black & Pink