The Walking While Trans Ban Has Been Repealed

A draconian piece of legislation that has for decades been wielded to harm trans and gender nonconforming communities has finally been repealed. Since the 1970s, New York State has enabled policing of trans and gender non-conforming people based on a discriminatory and highly variable set of standards relating to “loitering for the purpose of prostitution,” whose enforcement was entirely up to the discretion of police officers. TGNC people have been stereotyped, picked up, and arrested, too often facing violence from police and fellow detainees, for over four decades under this law.

In June 2019, Layleen Polanco died while in custody at Riker’s Island, incarcerated due to an open warrant for charges related to sex work. In seeking accountability and justice for Layleen, AVP included in our demands the repeal of this loitering for the purpose of prostitution law, more commonly known as Walking While Trans ban, which has been broadly used to target, harass, and discriminate against trans and gender non conforming people and profile them as sex workers—trans women of color like Layleen.

“I’m grateful the walking while trans ban has been repealed so that trans women of color like my sister won’t be as easily profiled,” Melania Brown, Layleen Polanco’s sister said. “However, this doesn’t ease my pain. My sister should have been with us here today. I hope and pray that New York City and State elected officials do not wait for another death and another family to be destroyed like mine to put legislation that protects trans and gender nonconforming people. I’ll continue to fight to make sure Layleen didn’t die in vain and that her platform can be used to help other trans women like her.”

The work to decriminalize and decarcerate must continue to prioritize and center the experiences of trans and gender nonconforming people of color, in order for it to be truly inclusive and effective for all. Repealing this legislation is an important step, but the work continues. LGBTQ people experience economic disenfranchisement and discrimination at high levels, and as a result, make up a significant portion of people who trade sex to support their survival needs. The criminalized status of sex work combined with the discrimination that LGBTQ people experience makes LGBTQ sex workers more vulnerable to violence.

Decriminalizing sex work by passing the Stop Violence in the Sex Trades Act in New York State would set a national precedent for curbing violence against those who sell sex out of choice, circumstance, or coercion. Defunding and ultimately dismantling NYPD’s Vice Squad, which arrested Layleen in a sting operation in 2017, is also a necessary step. Reducing NYPD’s overall headcount and defunding its oversized budget by at least 1 billion would free up funding that could be used to support LGBTQ and HIV-affected survivors with community-based services and support.
AVP believes we can create a more just world that doesn’t rely on the violence of the carceral system to create safety. We can build safety in our communities while keeping LGBTQ, trans, and gender nonconforming people out of jails. We celebrate that Governor Cuomo acted swiftly and signed the repeal of this discriminatory and unjust law, and all legislators on the city and state level to continue the important work of decriminalizing LGBTQ survivors. There is still more to do!

Ahead of tomorrow, we remain hopeful

As we prepare for tomorrow’s inauguration, AVP is inspired and hopeful for a shift towards healing, justice, and accountability for our nation. We are optimistic about the intentions of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to repair many of the harms President Trump inflicted on the most marginalized in our communities. In his first ten days in office, President-elect Biden has already committed to begin addressing the multiple crises of the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic crisis, climate change, and issues of racial equity.

The Biden Administration is poised to make history, not only by electing the first Black and Indian woman Vice President and assembling the most diverse team of appointees and nominees ever, but by pushing forward bold initiatives needed to address the epidemic of violence that grips our country.

Biden and Harris are taking office two weeks after right-wing extremists and white supremacists took over the Capitol building threatening members of Congress and attempting to halt and overturn the certification of electoral votes. This attack was the inevitable outcome of four years of hate-mongering, conspiracy theorizing, and incitement to violence led by President Trump, fueled by many Republican members of Congress, and carried out by white supremacist terrorist groups. The administration’s first actions must include steps to hold all of the actors in the Capitol attack accountable including rooting out and disarming the white supremacist groups that mobilized thousands to descend on Washington and continue to threaten the core of our very democracy.

At the same time, we must acknowledge that our criminal legal system causes harm to Black and brown people and commit to finding new solutions for accountability that do not rely on inflicting additional violence and harm. The stark differences between the police responses to Black Lives Matter protests this summer and the Capitol insurrectionists have provided once again, clear proof of the two systems of injustice in the United States. On June 1, DC police arrested 316 people associated with the BLM protests in response to the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, compared to just 61 arrested during the Capitol riot on January 6. Those most harmed by violence are also most harmed by our systems of punishment.

President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, have a difficult job ahead. They must tackle the enormous challenges we currently face in a highly volatile and polarized society. On Wednesday they will hit the ground running and at AVP, we are excited to share our vision for a just future with the new administration. In the coming weeks, AVP will share more of our national policy priorities which include: equitable COVID relief, funding for survivor services, hate violence prevention, divestment from police and investment in community services, support for immigrant survivors, and safety for sex workers and survivors of trafficking.

Even with a friendly administration, the work ahead to address and end violence will be difficult and long. Threats from the alt-right will continue and may rise. Attacks on our community will not end overnight. We will not agree with every step this administration takes. There will be setbacks. But the way forward is clearer and our resolve is strong. We hope you join us tomorrow in celebrating the possibilities of the Bidden/Harris administration and continuing to shape a world in which we can all be safe and free. In the words of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.”

In peace and solidarity,

Beverly Tillery

 

 

AVP condemns the violence occurring in our nation’s capital

AVP condemns the violence occurring in our nation’s capital, and any and all attempts to overturn a free and fair election. In failing to recognize the results of the election and commit to a peaceful transfer of power, the administration and the president have undermined faith in our democratic process, sowing doubt that now threatens our democracy. The mob laying siege to the capitol building is a direct culmination of escalating violent rhetoric that is the hallmark of the Trump platform. Yet again, today, instead of ceasing his baseless claims of election fraud, President Trump has instead continued to spread disinformation and incite more violence. 

The relatively restrained police response so far to this attempted coup is in stark contrast to the violent and militaristic response to protests against racist police violence that swept the nation over the summer.  If these were Black, brown, queer, and trans people demanding justice, it seems unlikely they would have made it onto the capitol steps, let alone onto the floor of the legislature.  

We know this is a frightening and infuriating time for our communities, after what has been an exhausting year. Forty years ago, AVP was founded in a time of violence, when our community came together to support and stand with one another, when no one else would. 

AVP documented a spike in violence after the election of 2016, and we know that more incidents may occur in the next few days and weeks. We urge you all to take care of yourselves and each other. Stay home and away from where violence is happening if you can. Check in on your friends. If you choose to join in any actions or protests against the violence, please stay safe and check out our protest safety tips.  You can always reach out to AVP for support and to report any violence you witness or experience, to our 24/7 English/Spanish hotline 212-714-1141 or online avp.org/get-help

Today on Trans Day of Remembrance

Today on Trans Day of Remembrance, AVP joins our trans, gender nonconfirming, and non-binary community in rage and resistance as we remember and honor the TGNC lives lost this year. AVP stands alongside and in solidarity with the trans community, its leaders and trans-led organizations, today and everyday, as allies in the fight to end anti-trans violence. 

2020 has been a year of immense grief for our community. It is a year marked by a global pandemic which has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, exacerbated dire economic and housing instability, and led to isolation in our community. It is a year in which many communities have demanded an end to the anti-Black violence that is deeply entrenched in our society. And it has become the deadliest year for TGNC people in our country, with the number of homicides of TGNC people, of Black trans women, reaching historic levels. 

While we pause today, to remember lives we have lost, we know our work must create conditions that honor the living. Trans women have told us again and again, what they need  to be safe: access to safe and secure housing, employment, healthcare, and education. 

In the world AVP envisions that is free from violence, trans people not only have what they need to be safe, but also have an abundance of resources, and are universally celebrated and loved. We invite our entire community to join us in making this world a reality. 

Join us at the following events to work toward these goals and build community:
  • Become a Bystander/Upstander

Wednesday, December 2nd – 6 pm to 8 pm. Bystander/Upstander Intervention training.  In the aftermath of a turbulent election, a global pandemic, and increasing violence against LGBQ and especially TGNC people, New York City Anti-Violence Project is hosting a virtual Bystander Intervention Training to help community members combat anti-LGBTQ violence and promote communal safety in their communities. Learn and practice verbal de-escalation tactics and intervening against violence targeting people who experienced various marginalized identities and structural barriers. Register here.

  • Support Incarcerated Community Members

Wednesday, December 9th – 6 pm to 8 pm AVP membership meeting and Black and Pink letter writing to queer and trans people who are currently incarcerated. AVP organizers run monthly membership meetings where we plug community members into our campaigns and organizing. RSVP to our letter writing and learn more and get ongoing information on the dates and times of membership meetings by emailing community@avp.org

 

Family of Layleen Polanco Settles Civil Suit With New York City, Continues Advocacy #JusticeForLayleen

Media Contact:
Eliel Cruz, Director of Communications,
New York City Anti-Violence Project
ecruz@avp.org,
917-727-2107

David Shanies, Attorney representing Polanco family
david@shanieslaw.com
212-951-1710

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 

Family of Layleen Polanco Settles Civil Suit With New York City, Continues Advocacy #JusticeForLayleen

August 31, NEW YORK, NY The family of Layleen Polanco, a 27-year-old Afro-Latinx trans woman who died while being held in solitary confinement in Rikers Island in June 2019, has settled their civil suit with the City of New York. The civil suit for reckless indifference for Layleen’s life was settled for a financial settlement of 5.9 million dollars, the largest settlement paid by the City for a death in custody. 

“My family made the difficult decision to settle our lawsuit with the City of New York. Despite the settlement, my family isn’t done fighting. This lawsuit was only one way we were seeking justice for Layleen and this is only just the start.” Melania Brown, Layleen’s sister said. “To this day, despite evidence of negligence, no one has been held accountable for my sister’s death. The guards who were responsible for caring for my sister must be fired.” 

In June of 2020, both the Department of Investigation and the Bronx’s District Attorney Darcel Clark released reports of their investigations declining to press charges against Rikers officials for Layleen’s death. The reports, which initially deadnamed Layleen, claimed they found no criminal wrongdoing or negligence. A week later, the Polanco family released footage inside Rikers which showed Correctional Officers opening Layleen’s cell and visibly laughing just moments before she was pronounced dead. 

In response to the reports, Mayor Bill De Blasio announced that seventeen correctional officers would be disciplined as well as the City’s intent to end solitary confinement. 

“Justice for Layleen is ending the conditions that led her to her death. It’s ensuring no other family has to experience the grief my family now has to live with for the rest of our lives.” Brown said. “My family would like to thank David Shanies and his firm for representing us, the New York City Anti-Violence Project for their tireless advocacy and support, and to every person who has demanded justice for Layleen. Our fight continues.” 

The New York City Anti-Violence Project (AVP) echoes Polanco’s family’s continued calls for justice and demands all of the Riker’s officials responsible for Layleen’s death be fired. 

“The neglect and utter disregard for Layleen’s life by prison officials is reprehensible. Solitary confinement for all must be ended immediately and concrete steps must be taken to ensure the safety of all trans and gender nonconforming people incarcerated, “ Beverly Tillery, Executive Director of AVP said. 

“Unfortunately, we know what happened to Layleen is reflective of thousands of transgender people who are regularly subjected to neglect and violence and stripped of their humanity within our nation’s jails and prisons. These acts of state violence have to stop and we are calling on our city and state officials to take action now to ensure accountability for Layleen’s tragic death, and to end the criminalization and disproportionate incarceration and abuse of transgender New Yorkers.”

The New York City Anti-Violence Project calls for:

  • The Mayor’s Office and/or the Department of Corrections fire correction officers and their captain involved in Layleen Polanco’s death in solitary confinement at Rikers Island
  • The Department of Correction to create and maintain a database of records of Correctional Officers who have committed misconduct. 

Representatives for the Polanco family, their attorney, and spokespersons from AVP are available for comment.

About Layleen: At the time of her death, Layleen Polanco was caught up in the violent bureaucracy of New York’s criminal legal system. She died on Rikers Island on June 7th, 2019 while being detained on $500 bail on a misdemeanor charge. Polanco was being held due to a few missed court dates as part of the services she was mandated to in an alternative to incarceration program due to a prior arrest in a sting operation for sex work in 2017. Furthermore, she was being punished with solitary confinement even though officials at Rikers knew she had a serious medical condition that caused life-threatening seizures, as well as schizophrenia.

About AVP: The New York City Anti-Violence Project empowers lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and HIV-affected communities and allies to end violence through organizing and education, and supports survivors through free counseling, legal serivces, advocacy.

 ###

 

AVP Calls For An Immediate End To Solitary Confinement

On Monday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the City’s plan to end solitary confinement for those with serious medical conditions effective immediately, and an end to solitary confinement for all in New York City by October. During his announcement he acknowledged that Layleen Polanco should not have been in solitary confinement. This step is necessary but does not go nearly far enough. AVP calls for an immediate end to solitary confinement.

This announcement comes after years of hard work from advocates including the #HALTsolitary campaign and Jails Action Coalition, and supported by AVP after the death of Layleen Polanco. The campaign to end solitary is led by survivors of solitary confinement and family members of those who have died in solitary, who have pushed for an end to this torture since 2013. As the #HALTsolitary campaign has said in their statement, “Layleen Polanco died in solitary over one year ago. Kalief Browder died because of solitary confinement over five years ago. Bradley Ballard died in solitary confinement nearly seven years ago. Jason Echeverria died in solitary confinement nearly eight years ago. Carina Montes died in solitary over 17 years ago. Eliminate this practice now.”

The creation of a working group to figure out how to end solitary confinement is a stalling tactic and unnecessary. The #HALTsolitary Campaign has previously released a detailed plan on how to end solitary confinement once and for all. It does not take a four person work group, over several months, to come up with a simple answer; to end solitary confinement it is simple, stop putting people in solitary confinement.

The Board of Corrections has allegedly been working on ending solitary confinement for over three years now. They have the opportunity to vote and end this violent practice immediately during a scheduled July 14 meeting. New York City cannot wait months for solitary confinement to end. Everyday that passes is a day in which another person could be killed by this inhumane practice. Solitary confinement must end today.

###

AVP Condemns The City’s Fiscal Year ‘21 Austerity Budget with no major cuts to NYPD

Defunding the Hate Violence Prevention Initiative and Cutting Social Services by 20% Without Cutting the NYPD Budget is a Disgrace.

At the close of Pride month, amid protests against anti-Black police violence, an ongoing global pandemic, and a financial crisis; the New York City Council passed an austerity budget that cut essential funding from many progams serving LGBTQ Black and other people of color and failed to meaningfully divest from the NYPD. The New York City Council passed this budget despite calls to #DefundNYPD. Just days before this budget’s passage, police violently attacked protesters marching in the Queer Liberation March for Black Lives, pushing, beating, and using pepper spray against them toward the end of the march in Washington Square Park. This and many other incidents, starting with the Stonewall police rebellion in 1969, illustrate why LGBTQ people are fighting to #DefundNYPD. 

The FY21 budget Council passed on June 30th includes devastating cuts to essential services for those most vulnerable Black and other people of color communities but no meaningful cuts from the NYPD FY21 expense budget. Communities United for Police Reform, a coalition of which AVP has been a voting member since it was founded in 2012, called for at least $1 billion to be cut from the NYPD and to be reinvested back into Black, indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) communities which have been severely impacted by COVID-19. Instead, the FY21 adopted budget cut nearly 20% of discretionary funding that should go directly to community organizations serving marginalized New Yorkers, while protecting significant portions of the NYPD budget. For instance, while all other city agencies are experiencing a hiring freeze, the NYPD is expected to start training a new class of officers in the fall. And through a budgetary sleight of hand, funding for school safety officers was not cut but moved from the NYPD budget to the Department of Education. This budget cuts services and incentivizes over-policing of our communities; it represents dangerous steps backwards from our progress towards safety.

We acknowledge the nine NYC Council members who voted their conscience by voting no on the FY21 budget, recognizing that the NYPD cuts were achieved through budgetary tricks and not a real reduction to officer headcount, or any other meaningful change in priorities to protect vulnerable New Yorkers: Council Members Barron, Kallos, Lander, Menchaca, Reynoso, Rivera, Richards, Rosenthal, and Van Bramer.

The creative solution, the Hate Crimes Prevention Initiative, established in FY20, has been completely defunded in the FY21 budget. The initiative was conceptualized and advocated for by AVP along with eight other community-based organizations working across identities and communities. Jewish, Arab-American, Muslim, LGBTQ, and Black and Brown New Yorkers united to create community safety, working together to make New York safer through bystander/upstander education, reporting and support for survivors, rapid incident response, and restorative justice frameworks. 

The initiative aimed to create pathways to communal responsibility and education as opposed to police arrests for hate crimes to address violence. It is unconscionable that the Council would cut such an initiative in a budget cycle when the need to prevent hate violence is so  dire, as well as the imprative to end  the escalating police violence against Black, brown, queer and trans communities. 

AVP has supported the #DefundNYPD movement because the LGBTQ and HIV-affected survivors of violence we serve, especially Black people and trans, gender non-conforming, and non-binary people of color, have historically been profiled and targeted by law enforcement. In addition to the escalating police violence against LGBTQ people protesting, in daily life, police do not make our communities safer. Instead, they escalate and perpetrate violence against those most vulnerable, particularly when called upon to intervene with New Yorkers experiencing crises, like those related to mental health and homelessness, all of which disproportionately impact BIPOC and LGBTQ communities. AVP believes in a different approach to create safety, one that doesn’t include increased policing, but relies on communities to know what they need to be safe and receive the funding needed to implement creative solutions. 

AVP opposes this budget which fails to decrease the size of the NYPD and its daily violent impact on LGBTQ people’s lives, whilst also delivering cuts to alternative safety programs and resources that actually help build a safer world for LGBTQ survivors of violence. We will continue to fight for resources for our community and #DefundNYPD.

New York City Anti-Violence Project Condemns NYPD’s Violence at Pride After “Vow” to Never Repeat the Violence of Stonewall

This Sunday, June 28, 2020, protesters marching in the Queer Liberation March for Black Lives were attacked by police, who pushed them, beat them, and used pepper spray against them toward the end of the march in Washington Square Park. The New York City Anti-Violence Project strongly condemns this violence. Especially in light of all the actions taken over the past month, led by Black and brown New Yorkers to highlight and resist police violence in our city and nation, it is reprehensible for the NYPD to commit violence against our community in broad daylight, at a march commemorating the Stonewall Rebellion. 

Last June, then-Police Commission James O’Neil apologized publicly for the NYPD’s role in the violence at the Stonewall Inn, saying of those nights in June 1969, “The actions taken by the NYPD were wrong, plain and simple. The actions and the laws were discriminatory and oppressive, and for that, I apologize. I vow to the LGBTQ community that this would never happen in NYPD 2019.”

Well, it’s 2020, and today’s NYPD is repeating that brutal history by committing violence against LGBTQ community members. Eliel Cruz, AVP’s Director of Communications, captured some of the police violence in a video he then posted to Twitter. He witnessed police escalating violence and directly harming protestors.  Overnight, AVP received over fifteen reports of police violence at the march from LGBTQ New Yorkers.  This is unacceptable.  

As an organization that centers LGBTQ and HIV-affected communities, this is only the latest example of the ways we see first-hand the harms of increased policing, particularly on queer, trans, and non-binary people of color.  Over the last few weeks, we have been providing support to LGBTQ community members who have experienced violence at the hands of the NYPD. The people AVP serves includes: low-income (including homeless) individuals; transgender and gender nonconforming (TGNC) communities; undocumented immigrants including those seeking asylum; people of color; individuals who are incarcerated or entangled in the criminal legal system; sex workers; and those at the intersections of these identities.

If you have experienced or witnessed violence by police, please reach out to AVP’s 24/7 English-Spanish hotline at 212-714-1141 or report the violence online at avp.org/get-help.  AVP is here for you, anytime, anywhere.

City and State Lawmakers Must Commit to #JusticeForLayleen

Media Contact:
Eliel Cruz, Director of Communications
ecruz@avp.org,
917-727-2107

City and State Lawmakers Must Commit to #JusticeForLayleen

The NYC Anti-Violence Project is calling on city and state officials to take concrete steps towards ending the criminalization and abuse of transgender women of color in New York’s carceral system. Last week, the Bronx District Attorney released the results of their investigation into the death of Layleen Cubilette-Polanco Xtravaganza at Rikers Island which confirmed that “correction officers failed to follow the Department of Correction’s (DOC) directive that every inmate housed in Punitive Segregation shall be observed at least once every 15 minutes, at irregular intervals.” Instead, a deadly 47 minutes went by without anyone checking on Layleen. The video footage released by the family, puts the guards’ disregard for Layleen’s life on full display. 

The New York City Anti-Violence Project calls for:

  • The NY State Legislature to pass the HALT Solitary Confinement Act and end solitary confinement in New York City jails.
  • The State to repeal #WalkingWhileTrans ban 
  • The State to stop implementation of 2020 bail reform rollbacks  
  • The Department of Corrections fire correction officers and their captain involved in Layleen Polanco’s death in solitary confinement at Rikers Island

 The following is a statement from Beverly Tillery, Executive Director of the New York City Anti-Violence Project: 

 “The neglect and utter disregard for Layleen’s life by prison officials, which is confirmed by both the Bronx DA’s report and the released video showing the guards’ inaction outside her cell around the time of her death, is a travesty. Thousands of transgender people are regularly subjected to neglect and violence and stripped of their humanity within our nation’s jails and prisons. These acts of state violence have to stop and we are calling on our city and state officials to take action now to ensure accountability for Layleen’s tragic death, and to end the criminalization and disproportionate incarceration and abuse of transgender New Yorkers.”

An AVP spokesperson is available for comment.

###

 

Statement From Layleen Polanco’s Family On Newly Released Footage Of Inside Rikers

Media Contact:
Eliel Cruz, Director of Communications at AVP
ecruz@avp.org,
917-727-2107

David Shanies, Attorney representing Polanco family
david@shanieslaw.com
212-951-1710

The following is a statement from Layleen’s mother, sister, and brother, Aracelis Polanco and Melania Brown, Salomon Polanco respectively: 

“The Rikers video shows the world just how little these officers cared whether Layleen lived or died. Layleen’s supposed caretakers knew something was wrong with her, but they ignored her until hours after knowing she was not responsive.  When they finally opened her cell, they stood there laughing next to Layleen’s dead or dying body.

That laughter marked the end of Layleen’s inhumane treatment at Rikers, but there was so much more. It included doctors and high-ranking jail officials ignoring Layleen’s medical conditions and throwing her in solitary where no one would see her.  It included officers who were supposed to confirm she was alive every fifteen minutes at a minimum, who went for hours without actually checking on her safety. 

Layleen was our daughter and our sister.  She was a light not just to us but to her many friends, including her second family, the House of Xtravaganza.  We have tried to mourn her loss for over a year now, but we are still so angry.  Last week we learned that the Bronx District Attorney would not bring criminal charges against any of the people whose job it was to protect Layleen.  Her decision is wrong, but we never believed that justice would come from the same system that took Layleen’s life.  

Justice will come from changes made in Layleen’s name.  With her memory shining a light on the world, we will fight the system that took her life.  We encourage everyone in the community, in Layleen’s name, to call their legislators and demand they pass the HALT Solitary Act and end the Walking While Trans Ban.  With the community’s help, we will make our voices heard in every corner of the government, and we will fight in Layleen’s memory so that no other family has to experience the pain we have endured over the past year.”

Layleen’s family has asked members of the media and the public to respect their privacy in this time. 

###