"April 25, 2008: They killed Sean all over again," Nicole Paultre Bell softly told hundreds of people gathered at Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network headquarters. "That's what if felt like to us."
Paultre Bell, in her first public remarks since storming out of a Queens courtroom on Friday after the NYPD detectives were cleared in 23-year-old Sean Bell's killing, said she would seek another decision in the case.
"I'm still praying for justice," she said, "because it's not over."
Bell's family, shooting victim Joseph Guzman and Sharpton lashed out at the legal system at a rally at Sharpton's offices before they joined more than 300 people marching through more than 20 blocks in Harlem. Fifty protesters carried white placards with a number on each sign, referring to the number of shots fired on Bell and his two friends outside a Queens strip club on his wedding day in 2006.
"We've got a long fight," said Guzman. "We're still in it. ... We're going to struggle. We're going to get through."
Sharpton lambasted the judge who acquitted the detectives, saying a jury should been seated to decide guilt or innocence.
"If people are on the public payroll, doing their public duty, they should be required to face a public jury," Sharpton said. He later promised to "shut the city down" with organized civil disobedience. "Shut it down! Shut it down!" supporters chanted.
In his ruling Friday, Justice Arthur Cooperman said that the inconsistent testimony, courtroom demeanor and rap sheets of the prosecution witnesses - mainly Bell's friends - "had the effect of eviscerating" their credibility.
"At times, the testimony just didn't make sense," the judge said.
The verdict elicited gasps as well as tears of joy and sorrow. Detective Michael Oliver, who fired 31 of the shots, wept at the defense table, while Bell's mother cried in the packed courtroom. Shouts of "Murderers! Murderers!" and "KKK!" rang out outside the courthouse.
Protests followed later in the day, and police said two demonstrators were arrested near the site of the shooting Friday night. One was arrested on a disorderly conduct charge, the other on a charge of obstructing governmental administration, police said.
Oliver and Gescard Isnora were acquitted of charges that included manslaughter, assault and reckless endangerment. The third officer, Marc Cooper, faced lesser charges.
The officers later appeared at a news conference with the leader of their union, offering brief statements and taking no questions. "I'd like to say sorry to the Bell family for the tragedy," an emotional Cooper said.
Trent Benefield, a friend of Bell's who was wounded in the shooting, tearfully denounced the judge's decision as unfair.
"They should have gotten what they deserve," he told the Daily News.
Bell was killed outside the Queens strip club as he was leaving his bachelor party. The officers - undercover detectives who were investigating reports of prostitution at the club - said they thought one of the men had a gun.
The slaying heightened tensions in the city and stoked long-standing allegations of racism and excessive use of force on the part of New York City's police, even though two of the officers charged are black.
Police had assigned extra officers to the courthouse and had helicopters in the air to help deal with any unrest Friday. But within an hour, the angry, weeping crowd of about 200 people outside the courthouse had scattered, and no arrests were made.
The officers had complained that pretrial publicity had unfairly painted them as cold-blooded killers. They opted to have the judge instead of a jury decide the case, a strategy that appeared to pay off.
After the verdict, the U.S. attorney's office said it would look into the case and "take appropriate action if the evidence indicates a prosecutable violation of federal criminal civil rights statutes."
In addition, relatives of the victims have sued the city, and those cases carry the potential for multimillion-dollar payouts.
Also, the officers, who had been on paid leave, still face possible departmental charges that could result in their firing.