News of the decision leaked to US media on Tuesday before the city mayor or the Sterling family had been told. People soon began gathering outside the shop where the tragedy happened.
A vigil was organised for Tuesday night, with small crowds gathering near the city's police headquarters. The civil rights investigation was opened soon after the 37-year-old was killed outside the grocery shop he was selling CDs.
At the time, a series of fatal police shootings involving African-Americans had sparked a debate about police use of force. The federal decision not to prosecute the two officers comes with a new US government and a new head of the Justice Department, Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
It does not mean the state of Louisiana could not bring its own charges. Police were called after reports of a man threatening people with a gun outside a shop. Mobile video footage appeared to show two officers wrestling a man in a red shirt to the floor.
One of the officers pinned the man's arm to the floor with his knee and then appeared to pull out his gun and point it at the man. A voice is heard shouting: "He's got a gun!" Then shots ring out and the camera moves away.
Mr Sterling, a father of five, died at the scene. Police said he refused to comply with the officers' commands so they used a stun gun to bring him to the ground. The officers say they saw a gun in one of his pockets and saw his arm move there as if he was reaching for it, just before he was shot.