Urban myth unsupported by evidence: Ice Cream Men are safe

By Lenore Skenazy . . . Paul DiMarco has been selling ice cream in Poughkeepsie, New York, for two decades. He owns a fleet of trucks. When one mom confided to him, “You gotta be careful because there’s a lot of pedophiles in this world,” he recalls replying, “That attitude falls into the same category as ‘All black people that drive Cadillacs are pimps,’ and ‘All clowns kill little kids.'”

Of course, some real-life ice cream men do have soft-serve for brains. There were the guys in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, who sold weed from their truck. Elsewhere in New York, an ice cream guy named Kenneth Leiton was busted in 2009 for selling pills and coke; cops caught him when he was dumb enough to park the truck in front of his dealer’s house. In Philadelphia in 2011, an ice cream truck was spotted weaving through the streets. Its operator was found guilty of driving drunk, and in his freezer authorities found not only ice cream novelties but a couple of bottles of his frozen pee. (In his defense, I’ve read it’s hard to find a bathroom while on the job.)

And yes, even the classic nightmare scenario has happened: An ice cream man in upstate New York was found guilty of violating a 9-year-old in his truck in 2004. The incident inspired a state law making it a misdemeanor for a sex offender to operate an ice cream truck. The New York State Senate is now considering bumping that up to a Class D felony.

But hard cases make bad law, and this is no exception. There are more than 700 Mister Softee trucks alone in 15 states, and that’s not counting all the other brands. A predator or two, a gaggle of drug dealers, and a horror movie—1995’s The Ice Cream Man didn’t do the industry any favors—do not an entire profession dishonor.

Fear of ice cream peddlers points to a larger problem few parents want to admit to: our collective mistrust of any man who chooses to work with kids. From male day care employees to school bus drivers to Cub Scout leaders, they’re all potential predators until proven otherwise.

And they can’t prove otherwise. How can you prove a negative?

If we insist on background checking all ice cream salesmen, do we also have to background check all pet shop employees? All pediatric cardiologists? Is any male who interacts with a child automatically suspect? And how about women? They abuse kids, too.

Once you start insisting on government vetting, you’re trusting a system that has made “sex offenders” out of teenagers in love, streakers, and public urinators (even the ones who don’t freeze their pee). You’re also buying into the mistaken belief that no one convicted of a sex crime can ever be rehabilitated—even though the actual recidivism rate is only around 5 percent. Most importantly, you’re looking in exactly the wrong direction.

“It’s so much more comfortable to fear the unknown, the stranger,” says Sandy Rozek, spokeswoman for the National Association for Rational Sexual Offense Laws. “But that doesn’t fit the facts. Depending on the age of the child, between 90 and 99 percent of those who sexually molest children are the friend, the acquaintance, the family member.” Not the ice cream guy.

DiMarco, the fleet owner, does run background checks on his operators, as state law requires. But the idea that ice cream men cruise around looking for victims is simply an urban myth. As he told that worried mom, “Let’s get one thing straight. As far as these little kids go, there’s only one thing I want and that’s their money.”

And in the end, that may be the real reason parents are so scared: Somewhere in this bubble-wrapped, baby-proofed world, one group of adults is treating kids as human beings, not snowflakes.

How chilling.

Republished from Reason.com


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14 Thoughts to “Urban myth unsupported by evidence: Ice Cream Men are safe”

  1. AvatarThe Punitive Registry

    If the upstate ice cream man was on the registry, then why was he driving an ice cream truck? Rhetorical, but I want someone to give an answer that could be used for the SCOTUS oral arguments when that day comes.

    1. sandysandy

      I believe that restrictions as to jobs, just as restrictions as to housing, vary by state, by jurisdiction, by level, and by offense. In some states or jurisdictions a registrant may be unable to work as an ice cream vendor while in others he is able.

    2. AvatarStupidity squared

      He was Not even on the registry when he abused that child. 90% of crimes that involve a sexual component are and have always been committed by first time offenders rendering the registry USELESS.

    3. sandysandy

      Yes, you are absolutely correct on both counts. Thank you for clarifying. Actually, I think it may be higher…95% or thereabouts.

    4. I don’t think the article said he “was” on the registry, only that a man who drove an ice cream truck offended against a 9 year old in his truck.

  2. AvatarRegistry Rage

    It all stems from John Walsh and Fox News brainwashing and reprogramming worry wart mothers over the last 2 decades with the “all it takes is a second” and “it could happen to your child, too” nonsense!

    They are fear-for-profit parasites!

  3. Avataremil

    I have been reading these articles about the low recidivism rate, most offenses are committed by those not in the registry, and so on and so forth in this site and others, but what has been a change?
    I really don’t see any change when it comes to the living condition of those in the registry. Sometimes, I feel that it is useless to even visit these sites, other than to get a little bit of “feel-good” feeling. Those in the power, those make these new laws, don’t give a damn about this website or similar websites. They don’t even seem to give a damn about facts and common sense. Even being seemingly unconstitutional, American citizens who are in the registry are subjected to live life perhaps worst than in a Nazi ghetto.

    1. AvatarJeremy Heady

      Change doesn’t happen overnight, Emil. Look at how long it took the Civil Rights Movement to have the Civil Rights Act of 1964 enacted. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and other civil rights leaders started in the 40’s and 50’s. Depending on who you ask, some say there is still problems in that regard today. That was a class of people that did nothing wrong. The class of SO’s have done something wrong and have given citizens a reason to hate us. That means it is going to be a tougher road for us to fight and will likely take longer.

      With that said though, a lot of change has been happening, but slowly. Many cases have been fought in state and lower level appeals courts that had a positive outcome. Some still have a negative outcome though too. One such case went to the Supreme Court recently. The case of Packingham v. North Carolina is currently pending in the Supreme Court and oral arguments indicated a positive outcome for us. This is one of the last (if not THE last) cases the Supreme Court is supposed to decide this term. This case finally shed light to the Supreme Court on the misinformation given in McKune v. Lyle that led to the “frightening and high” assertion in Smith v. Doe. I believe this is why they haven’t decided quite yet.

      I believe they realized the mistake the court made twenty years ago and may write a decision that changes the registry forever. That’s my hope at least. Keep engaged and active. Things are starting to change and the courts are starting to realize how unconstitutional these laws really are. The politicians won’t change it, so the courts are our only hope.

    2. AvatarLM

      Citizens do not reserve the right to “hate us.”

      We have NOTHING to prove to them, cops.

      They suffer from a false sense of entitlement to know where we live.

      Megan’s Law is the equivalent of false imprisonment.

      End of discussion.

    3. AvatarThe Punitive Registry

      LM- Your third & fourth statements hit the mark exactly. EXACTLY!!! Megan’s Law is a money Making, Politician Advancing Machine!!! In addition, It gives the average sinner Dangerous Powers. DOES ANYBODY HEAR ME!!! I don’t necessarily agree with your first two statements.

  4. AvatarMaestro

    “The incident inspired a state law making it a misdemeanor for a sex offender to operate an ice cream truck.”

    But if you;re dealing drugs or even illegal guns via your ice-cream truck, you only get charged for the crime committed, not for operation of the ice-cream truck.


  5. The Mass Hysteria around Sex Offenders continues without fact. Prayerfully one day we will all see the light!

    1. AvatarRegistry Rage

      It’s all fear mongering “for the children’s safety” propaganda, but it’s mostly because of “these people are up to no good and can never be trusted” along with the “yuck and ick” factor. People are selfish and hateful. Sometimes the only thing that gets them through the day is finding a way to criticize or berate someone else. It is a reflection of our mean-spirited society.

      Anyone that exploits their dead child to get a law passed in their name for profit and prominence is shit in my book.

    2. AvatarMaestro

      @ Registry Rage,

      EXACTLY!!! I’ve been saying this for years. Since the 1990’s we’ve had a trend in this country to name laws after dead kids. It’s disgusting.

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