Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Rest of the Racial Graffiti Story: "I'm very sorry that people were hurt.. I'm not that kind of person"

Editor's Note:  The names and relationships of other people in this story have been deleted, and photos have been smudged to protect identities.  The references are, however correct, as they related to the context of this interview. Questions and comments are in italics.

Andy Frye has a message for African-Americans in Riverview, and others who saw or heard about, the racist graffiti spray-painted on the I-26 bridge at Meadowview in Kingsport in April of 2009.

"I want to publically and formally apologize to everybody about the graffiti," says Frye.  With his trial now finished and judgment rendered, he sat down with the Douglass Alumni Association's Riverview Community Website for the first interview he's done, since the graffiti was discovered in April of 2009.

 Our first question was obvious.

Did you do it?  Did you actually spray-paint the graffiti on the bridge?

"Yeah.. unfortunately," he sighed quietly.  "It was a dumb, stupid thing to do, and it is so not like me to do something like that."

To see the graffiti that was found spray-painted on the I-26 underpass at Meadowview in April, 2009, click here

The next question is the one most asked by people who saw or heard about the spray-painted messages of hate on the bridge.

Why?  Why did you do it?

"It wasn't meant to be hurtful or racial to anybody," he says.  "It wasn't some white supremist thing.  I know it's hard to believe now, but it was all just a joke.   And the thing is, it wasn't even my idea."

From that, comes what Frye says, is the other side of the story.. a side he says, that has never been told, and one that he wants people to know.
"Yes, there is another side to this story," he says.  "The truth is, I myself did not buy the paint, I didn't drive myself down there to do it.. it wasn't like I woke up that morning and said 'I want to go paint a bridge.'  The court knew the other half of the story, but it was never told to the media, to anybody.  Those details never came out.  I have to tell you, I am not a racist.  Not at all.  I am not the racist the media has made me look like."

What is the other side to the story?

"The truth is, and it may be hard to believe, there was this girl, who was friends with a distant relative of mine," Frye says. (Editor's note: the girl Frye mentions in the interview will be identified in this article as Mystery Girl).    "She and this guy were big racists, and it was pretty bad.  Even though I was married with kids, this girl and this guy had always been trying to influence me.  They were all the time saying stuff about black people, picking on them, making racial remarks and jokes, seeing someone who's black out in public, and making something up on 'em, laughing and all this stuff.  This guy has always been like that, and this girl actually wanted to date me at one time.  Even though I was married, and even had a kid, she wanted me to go with her.  I wouldn't, of course, but she still thought I would."


"Mystery Girl was such a racist, that it's pitiful," he says.  "Her Facebook and Myspace pages had pictures of her on there, that were perfect examples of her hatred for blacks, and my lawyer and I even presented that to the court.  In one Facebook picture, she's holding two guns and underneath, the caption says "Kill a..  and the N-word."   

"She's got two or three bridges that she's spray-painted herself, and was proud of doing it.  She talked about it as if it was nothing.  I don't see how she could get away with it, but she did.  None of that ever came out from court."

As an example,  Frye mentioned one location where, if people were familiar with its Hawkins County location, they'd think graffiti artists go there to practice.


"Sensabaugh.. (Sensabaugh Underpass under the CSX Railroad in Hawkins County).. she did that one, and there was even a picture of it.  Of course, everybody does it there.  That's not the only one she's done. Those two bridges she's done and there are pictures of those, are real close to her house.  She never writes anything but racial stuff."


"In another picture, this one on Myspace, she is holding a baseball bat or something that looks like a stick," Frye points out.   "The caption underneath is the N-word, then Wacker.  We told the prosecutor about that, and even showed the pictures," Frye says.  "Of course, she took the pictures off her profile after they contacted her.  The detective who investigated said he was still looking into it and why she was posting this stuff."

But the cops had you dead to rights, though.. you did the deed, no matter what else.

"It was difficult to get around that," Frye says.  "Meanwhile, she got off scot-free."

"I wasn't working at the time, but I had a wife and a baby daughter to support," says Frye.  "I didn't have much money and she lives over in Colonial Heights and had all kinds of money and was just buying stuff left and right.  She said, whatever I wanted, she'd buy, if I painted the bridge."

"They put a big influence on me to hate black people with them," Frye says, "even though I actually had black friends, even one that I worked with."

Frye says, the graffiti was painted on the I-26 overpass at Meadowview at night, around 12 midnight, on Sunday morning, April 19, 2010. with almost no traffic around, except a few cars and trucks on the interstate overhead.  It was a partly cloudy sky and the temperature was cool for that time of year.

"It was this mystery girl's idea to paint the bridge," he insisted.  "She was going to pay me to do it, that's why I did it.  She went to Wal-Mart and bought the paint with her credit card.  There is actual store video of her doing this.  She brought the paint back to my house.  I told her multiple times 'I don't want to do this, I don't want to do this,' but I had seen stuff written on a lot of bridges and it was always just a prank.  Then, she told me she'd buy me anything I wanted, if I did it.  She was friends with this guy who was just as big a racist as she was, and she told me to go down and write something about black people on the bridge.. she even gave me what to write.  She had C-D's, racist C-D's of music about blacks and things on 'em and she would listen to those all the time.  She drove her car to the bridge, dropped me and the paint off, I did it, and she came back and picked me back up."

Did she really buy you something for spray-painting the bridge?

"Actually she did," Frye says.  "She did buy me some stuff.  It was a couple hundred dollars worth of stuff.  I wish she hadn't now.  I wouldn't take 10-thousand dollars to do it now."

"Of course, she got immunity during my trial," Frye says.  "She made a statement against me to the court that it was all my idea, she had nothing to do with it and she didn't want to do it, which was all a lie.  Because I admitted to doing it, they believed her more than they believed me, but there's evidence of her involvement that the court did not consider."

Were you ever romantically involved with her?

"No, no," he says emphatically.  "I'm married.. happily married.  She was just a friend of the family."

In a 'Jerry Springer' moment, it would have made a lot of sense.

"I know it was wrong to let people influence me like that," he says, "but at my age, having something bought for you to do something that everybody thought was a joke, was tempting.  I knew better than that, but back then, it was hard to fight off.  Eventually, I had to get an Order of Protection against her.  When I wouldn't have nothing to do with her, she started driving by my house, tossing out firecrackers.  She tried to flatten my tires when I decided to stop talking to her.  Really to me, it wasn't fair that she got out of her involvement.  If you rob a bank or something, the person who drives the getaway car, is charged with something, too."

Did the thought ever occur to you that this graffiti might be harmful to somebody else, that someone might be offended by this?  Did you ever think about that?

"Yeah, I did.  It wasn't an hour later, I felt sick to my stomach," said Frye.  "I was thinking, 'wow.. I cannot believe I did that.'  I've never done anything like that before in my life, never.. never even thought about doing something like that.   I can't really explain it, it can't be explained.. it was just extremely stupid.. no other way to explain it."

Frye says the mystery girl and the guy thought the spray-painted bridge was hilarious, despite his own misgivings about it.  In fact, he told us he thought the whole thing was forgotten after the graffiti was taken down.  "I didn't hear anything for two months," he remembers.  And then, I woke up one morning with the police at my door, putting me under arrest."


"That guy was responsible for that," he says.  "He went down to the police department and told them I did it, thinking it was a way to get me in trouble.  In fact, as I said, he's a big racist.  He moved out of his house when a black family moved in next door to him.  He flipped out.  Actually moved into a rental house he owns across the street until they moved out.  They never did a thing to him.  Said he wasn't gonna live in no house beside black people."

Concerning the graffiti, are you sorry you did it, or are you sorry you got caught?  It might have been in your HEAD to spray-paint the bridge, but was it in your HEART?  I mean, dude... those are $64,000 dollar questions.

"Oh no," he says quickly.  "It was definitely not in my heart.  I hope people understand that.  That's why I need to apologize to the black community.  That's not the way I think, that's not my point of view on black people.  Yeah, I'm sorry I did it, and I'm sorry I got caught, too, because I got caught doing something stupid.  I'm not some skinhead, racist something that doesn't have anything to do with blacks.  It's not that way with me, at all.  I have African-American friends that I used to work with.  One of them was going to come to court for me, and testify for me if I needed it.  We have been friends for a long time, two-and-a-half years now.  Me and him have actually gone out and done stuff before.  We've played golf, and I've never thought twice about him being any different from me.  He's just like any friend I've got."

What did he think about the graffiti?

"When it came out, he didn't act any different towards me," Frye says.  "He didn't say anything about it.  He just said he couldn't believe that all that was happening to me and stuff.  I couldn't explain everything to him because my lawyer told me not to talk to anybody, but if he were mad, he kept it to himself.  He just didn't treat me any differently.  I don't know if that was good or bad."


Growing up in a middle-class family, Frye went to Sullivan South High School in Kingsport, a school that endured its own serious racial question last summer.  For years, students and supporters of the school have waved the rebel flag to support the athletic teams, who are nicknamed the Rebels.  Recently, the school sought to diffuse controversy over the flag, by suggesting that students and supporters include other flags in their enthusiam for the school's athletic programs.

Nationally and in Tennessee, African-Americans have long complained about the relationship of the rebel flag to slavery in America.

A lot of people associate what you did, with the rebel flag waved by some people at the school you went to.

"To be honest, I never thought that much about the rebel flag and slavery when I went to South," Frye says.  "I just saw it as a school mascot or something.  We learned about slavery and all that in school, and I didn't think of the rebel flag as anything but a flag.   I didn't relate it to African-Americans at all.  That was just my opinion." 

But it connects to intimidation, which is what you did.

"I do remember people putting the rebel flags on their cars and stuff, and going around and doing do-nuts in D-B's parking lot and things like that.  I never did thything like that personaly, but I do remember people doing that.  At the time, I didn't think of (the rebel flag) being anything racial, but if you look at it historically, it does connect to slavery and a lot of bad past references to African-American.  In this day and time, in my age group (late teens, early 20's), I never really linked it personally to anything like that."

"I do understand that, where black people would come from, thinking that it's connected to slavery, because it is.  I do understand that."

Frye says he hoped his case would have been a short term problem.  It was anything but.


He says he'll can't forget his days in court on the graffiti vandalism charge, and how bad he felt when there were postponements in his case.  Those postponements eventually added a year to the resolution of the legal process.

"At most court dates, people would stare at me, once they heard what I was charged with," remembers Frye.  "Sometimes, there were even African-Americans in the courtroom.  The clerk would call my name and would say something like 'vandalism to the bridge at Meadowview,' and give the details out.  You could look around and see the looks on the faces of the other people in the courtroom, like 'wow, it's that guy that was in the paper.'  The stare-downs, the whispering was unbelieveable.   I couldn't explain nothing at the time, because my attorney told me not to talk to anybody.  Everything anybody ever heard about the case, came from the police."

"I told my wife that, sometimes I wish I could go ahead and do jail time, just to get it over with," Frye remembers.

"To be thought of as a racist, is just about the lowest thing you can think about a person."

As Frye found out, being thought of as a racist, was not the only thing he was thought of as.   He was also being eyed by someone else.

"I had the Secret Service coming to my house," Frye says.  "I guess it was because of the Obama reference.  They knocked on my door one day and asked me a bunch of questions, like 'are you a terrorist' and things like that.  I was really scared and told them 'I'm no terrorist."  It was so incredible that I couldn't believe it.  I was 19 years old at the time, young and stupid.  Any other time, it might have been funny, except they were dead serious.  It scared me to death.  I gave them my lawyer information and they left just as quick as when they knocked on the door."

On Frye's court date, he remembers his, was the last case of the day.

"We told our side, which is what I've just told you," he says.  "We showed all the pictures, I testified to what I knew.  But the judge said he thought I was lying, just to try and get out of it.  We applied for pre-trial diversion, which would have taken it off my record after a certain time.  That was denied.  We then asked for judicial diversion, and got denied that.  So we made a plea deal.  The only thing the prosecutor would agree to, was that whatever the sentence was, I would have to do 30 per cent of one year.  The judge granted me a year's probation with no jail time, 120 hours of community service, which was 10 hours of service per month that I have already lined up.... restitution of 900 dollars (the amount it cost to remove the graffiti from the overpass) of which I have already paid 750 dollars.... and, that I should publish an apology in the newspaper."


Frye says, the ad space for the apology almost didn't make it into the paper.  He says, at first, the Kingsport Times-News did not want to print it, and asked him to come in and talk to the manager.  He says, it took a last-minute call to convince the newspaper the content was legitimate, even after he'd paid for the space..

"At first, they were not going to put it in, until my attorney called them," he says.  The ad ran in Saturday's Kingsport Times-News (December 11, 2010) under the "Responsible Notices" column in the classified ads.

Frye also sent the Douglass Alumni Association website the ad, too.  We contacted him, and he was ready to talk.

"My attorney probably would not want me to talk to you," he says.  "But doing this interview, hopefully that will help explain to the black people that I didn't mean to harm anybody, and that I'm really sorry about what happened.  I hope they and everybody else can forgive me."

"I don't want people to think I'm a racist," he says.  "I'm not, and I'm not just saying that because the court says I have to do an apology.  It's more than that.  It was a stupid thing I did, and I get tore up every time I think about it.  It's something I will have to live with the rest of my life."

You've got a daughter and now a son.  What are you going to tell your kids about this when they grow up and start asking questions?

"I'll just have to explain this dumb thing I did when I was a teenager, which may change the way they think of their daddy," Frye says.  I'll have to deal with it.  That's the hard part.  But for now, hopefully folks can forgive me.  I grew up in Kingsport, I've been here all my life.  I went to school with African-Americans.  There weren't many at South when I was there, but I was friends with them."

"Believe it or not, before all this happened, I wanted to get into some type of law enforcement job.  Of course, that won't be possible now," he says.  "I just hope to get a good job like I had, raise my family in Kingsport, and put all this behind me."

"Just a stupid thing to do, really meant to be a joke," he says.  "It was not my joke, but I was the one who did stupidly did it."

"I just hope everybody can forgive me."