Nate Silver Is Sorry for Telling His ‘Misguided and Naive’ Burrito Arrest Story During the Ferguson Protests

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Photo: Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert/Getty Images

Twitter allows each of us to experience, collectively and in real time, major events that may have once felt worlds away. But as a result, it’s also easy to get too comfortable or too glib when discussing topics far beyond ourselves. FiveThirtyEight founder Nate Silver figured that out too late last night, after using police brutality in Ferguson as a jumping-off point to tell his own story of getting arrested without cause, a multi-tweet account that ended with him telling the police he was sorry and them handing him a burrito before driving him home.

The injustice in Missouri, Silver told Intelligencer in an exclusive statement, “sparked a memory of a bad experience I had with cops a few years ago. I thought I could relate by sharing it last night on Twitter. I’ve since come to realize that was misguided and naive.”

“Experiences like mine might be rare for a privileged white person, but they aren’t rare for some black people, poor people, and other minorities,” said Silver. “If I were black, would I have been able to play the ‘I’m a nice guy’ card with the (white and Hispanic) police officers? I can’t know for sure. But history tells us this is an option that white people sometimes have and black people almost never do.”

His full apology:

Like many of you, I’ve been shocked by the conduct of the police in Ferguson, Missouri. A teenager has been shot by cops under questionable circumstances and citizens and journalists have been arrested for seemingly doing nothing wrong.

For me the news also sparked a memory of a bad experience I had with cops a few years ago. I thought I could relate by sharing it last night on Twitter. I’ve since come to realize that was misguided and naive.

Here’s what I get now — what I understood intellectually, but what I didn’t understand emotionally before I saw the response to my tweets: What would it be like to constantly live with the fear and powerlessness I felt for a few hours the night I got arrested? Experiences like mine might be rare for a privileged white person, but they aren’t rare for some black people, poor people and other minorities.

In my case, I got out of jail after kowtowing to the cops. I was stressed out, I explained. I hadn’t meant any harm. I was sorry. If I were black, would I have been able to play the “I’m a nice guy” card with the (white and Hispanic) police officers? I can’t know for sure. But history tells us this is an option that white people sometimes have and black people almost never do.

I’d like to think that people should be more willing to speak out when they see or experience police misconduct on any scale. But my anecdote was so minor as compared to Ferguson that last night wasn’t the right time for me to share. I’m sorry.