BBC News, New York
The officers have been vilified for shooting an unarmed man
The atmosphere was tense from the start as about 200 people arrived outside the Queens County Court House early Friday morning in anticipation of the verdict.
Most hoped to get inside and hear the verdict as it was announced.
But most were turned away as the court's public galleries were quickly filled, and the crowd on the street grew.
The press too had assembled in large numbers. The street facing the courthouse was skirted by about two-dozen satellite trucks. Local newscasters and their technicians sat near them in their "live" positions.
In the jostling, I found myself beside a young African-American woman who had brought her eight year-old daughter with her. She told me she thought it was important to take her child from school today, so she could see how justice worked in America.
The verdict was due at 9am.
Shortly beforehand, a delegation from Mr Bell's local church marched through the empty space the cops had cleared, singing a gospel anthem in perfect harmony.
A lady near the head of the largely black crowd urged people into chanting: "Justice for Sean Bell! Justice for Sean Bell!"
The woman beside me looked pleased. She hugged her daughter near.
Then the news broke.
Sections of the crowd rushed closer to the courthouse entrance. Someone screamed.
A different woman loudly shrieked: "They what?" The crowd's murmuring took on an angry tone.
One man's cry of "Hell No!" was taken up as a chant. At this stage most of us still had not heard the verdict.
We didn't need to; a teenage girl stumbled out into the middle of the pavement, doubled over with tears.
The woman who had brought her daughter was also sobbing.
As word spread, the mood became violent.
Some in the crowd turned on the police, yelling profanities.
Traffic had been diverted, so there was plenty of space for the crowd to swarm around the assembled press, forming mini-protest groups that each experimented with furious chants.
"NYPD, you can't hide! We charge you with genocide!" some yelled.
Members of Sean Bell's church gathered to hear the verdict
One protestor, a community organiser called B.D. Marcus, said: "This sends the wrong message to our community; that it's okay for cops to kill a black man, and get away with it."
Another man angrily compared the outcome to the case of Michael Vick, an African-American football player recently jailed for organising dog fights.
"What kind of a message are we sending to the rest of the world?" he asked me - an analogy repeated by many others.
When the Bell family emerged from the court they were shielded by a huddle of blue-shirted police.
As the press corps descended on them, the officers tried to push the media away as they walked the weeping family to nearby cars.
As the family left, the crowd's mood shifted from anger to sorrow.
Many of the remaining people I spoke with told me that in their heart of hearts they had anticipated the result.
One man, a pastor, said that he had three sons, and two of them were cops.
"My boys could have been on either side of this thing, so I sympathize with both arguments," he told me. He looked at the dispersing crowd and sighed, "It's just a terrible business all round."