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Aid organization members handcuffed while trying to distribute food in Harlem. Here's why

Mutual aid organization members defend distributing food in Harlem without permit
Mutual aid organization members defend distributing food in Harlem without permit 01:58

NEW YORK -- Members of a mutual aid organization were arrested this past weekend for distributing food without a permit in Harlem.

They tell CBS New York's Kristie Keleshian they're standing by their message of helping others.

We The People members arrested for distributing food without permit

The mutual aid organization We The People runs a weekly food and clothing distribution event every Saturday at 1 p.m.

On May 11, Rosie Torola says they and their friend were handcuffed minutes after setting up on Lexington Avenue.

Video shows members struggling with a number of New York City Police Department members as one person is heard yelling, "Get your hands off of me."

"Every single person was incredibly hostile ... for feeding the people, for helping your community," Torola said.

Two people were arrested at the event. They have since been released without any charges.

The event continued, but seven others, including organization co-founder Terrell Harper, were arrested for unlawful assembly when showing support for their arrested co-members outside of the precinct.

"It was no cause for them to jump on us," Harper said.

"I couldn't say the police were ever comfortable with what we're doing," We The People organizer Rudy Fraser said.

Mutual aid organization members say they shouldn't need permit to help community

City Department of Health rules say public food distribution requires a permit. The group could qualify for a temporary food service establishment permit, but the group hasn't applied and doesn't plan to.

"For us to build community, we shouldn't have to use a permit for that," Harper said.

"We took it upon ourselves to be like, 'OK, our neighborhoods are not being taken care of, now it's our turn,'" We The People co-founder Shea Sb said.

Lifelong Harlem resident Yanni has seen We The People become a needed resource on his block.

"Shutting them down is whack because at the end of the day, they're coming outside and feeding people and telling people what they need ... The community definitely does need the structure," Yanni said.

Torola says despite everything they've gone through, they would do it again to help the community.

"Absolutely. This is the fight," they said.

Harper says it's mostly peaceful during their weekly distributions in Harlem and Bedford-Stuyvesant, but the police presence has grown in past few weeks after he disrupted a City Council meeting.

The group still plans to do its usual Harlem distribution at the same location Saturday at 1 p.m.

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