He vowed to lead a campaign of "economic withdrawal" and civil disobedience that could include demonstrations at police headquarters and outside the judge's home.
They waited for hours, singing spirituals, praying and chanting for justice, but in a flash, the crowd gathered outside a Queens courthouse Friday erupted in anger and grief.
Men cursed and shouted. Women wailed and covered their faces. "Oh, no! No!" they yelled, as word spread that three police officers had been cleared of all charges in the 50-bullet shooting that took Sean Bell's life on his wedding day in 2006.
To some, the acquittal seemed like more proof that blacks can't get a fair shake in the criminal justice system
Moments after the verdict was announced, Trent Benefield, a friend of Bell's who was wounded in the hail of gunfire, staggered down the courthouse steps with a look of angry disbelief on his face, a friend's arms tightly wrapped around his shoulders.
"Not guilty. Not guilty. It's real," he said, while dozens of people wearing Bell's face on hats, T-shirts and buttons burst into sobs.
Within an hour, the crowd of about 200 people had settled down and dispersed. Despite a few scuffles between members of the throng and police officers, no arrests were made.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, who represented the Bell family, angrily denounced the verdicts on his radio show later and called on his followers to protest the outcome, but without violence.