Denver School Board director Auon'tai "Tay" Anderson speaks at the Colorado Organize to Win 2020 Summit on Feb. 16 at the Mercury Cafe in Denver. (Moe Clark, Special to The Colorado Sun)

The saga of Tay Anderson enflamed passions on all sides over the past six months. It ended with no winners, but a host of losers. None lost more than Anderson himself — mostly self-inflicted.

The furor began in March after Black Lives Matter 5280 issued a statement that accused Anderson of sexual assault. The charismatic Denver Public Schools Director became a leading voice during protests after the George Floyd murder. As a young Black man, he spoke with eloquence based on lived experience.

To say that Anderson is a gifted orator for someone so young is a disservice. He speaks with a rhythm and power that rivals any elected official of any age in Colorado. However, he frequently peppers that gift with language that is both accusatory and self-aggrandizing.

Mario Nicolais

The duality has made him a hero in some circles and a villain in others. Even members of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party bristled at his opportunism, much less the Republicans whose glee at his circumstance has been downright indecent.

Left-leaning pollster Eric Sondermann recently quipped, “Tay Anderson has become the Donald Trump of Denver politics. His loyal base laps it all up and thinks he can do no wrong. But more discerning voters turn away in disgust.”

The comparison seemed particularly apt over the past week.

During both the pre-vote news conference Anderson orchestrated and the letter he read during the meeting, Anderson engaged in oratorical pugilism almost indistinct from the style favored by the former president. He deflected, blamed and dismissed.

While the most damaging claims against Anderson were not substantiated — meaning that a preponderance of the evidence collected by investigators made it less likely than so that the behavior occurred — there were several substantiated claims. Anderson waived those aside as teen-aged indiscretions (or was it “locker room banter”?) and denied any attempt to coerce witnesses (or was it Georgia election officials?). 

Anderson broke out the big guns to undermine the investigation (election?) itself.

Anderson dubbed the six-month investigation a “high-tech lynching,” referred to the censure vote as a persecution based on “anti-Blackness and rooted in systems that uphold white supremacy” and compared himself to Emmett Till. Such a comparison demonstrates the extent to which Anderson has adopted a Trumpian victimization mentality.

Till was a 14-year-old Black boy whose 1955 murder in Mississippi — and the subsequent open-casket photos published across the country — helped to ignite the civil rights era. Carolyn Bryant accused Till of making unwanted sexual advances. Four days later, Till was beaten, murdered and dumped in a river by two men later acquitted by an all-white jury.

The only similarity, and the one Anderson seized upon, were a white woman’s allegations of unwanted sexual advances against a Black man. At the outset of the hearing, Anderson stated that, “Mary-Katherine Brooks Fleming is my Carolyn Bryant.”

I understand Anderson’s impulse. Bryant admitted she exaggerated some aspects of her encounter with Till and entirely fabricated others. Fleming’s accusations crumble under the scrutiny of investigators, vacillating between hard to believe and “objectively implausible on their face.” Because her allegations were the most sensational, any inaccuracy or untruth posed the greatest threat of injustice.

Yet Anderson’s comparison still seems wildly out of context. Another Trump hallmark.

First and foremost, it stretches credulity to draw a line between a murder marked by its brutality and a workplace investigation. Yes, Anderson faces potential reputational ruin, but much of that is based on the substantiated claims against him.

Second, Till’s murder was punctuated by a racial chasm in our country’s system of justice. His killers walked free. In contrast, the system worked in Anderson’s favor. The due process afforded him, and paid for by DPS, laid waste to Fleming’s accusations. While she has not admitted to lying as Bryant has, it is almost impossible to believe anything she said after reading the report.

Anderson’s political future may or may not survive this episode; hundreds of DPS students protested against him on Monday. If Anderson does rebound, hopefully he will shy away from Trumpian political tactics going forward.

Mario Nicolais is an attorney and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system, health care and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq

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