The Brooks story is no longer funny

Steven Brooks’ political career is over.

Of that there is no doubt. Even in the land of second chances, the man pictured shirtless on the front page is done.

But what also should be over are the jokes, the ridicule, the lampooning. Brooks needs help – he is now at a treatment facility – and his friends acting like Pontius Pilate and his colleagues whispering they knew it all along should start behaving more like human beings than posterior-protecting, pusillanimous weasels.

This is a human being in great distress, and whatever his past behavior, what he needs now is treatment and support. It’s so easy in the cynical, cold political world to be caught up in the tragicomic spectacle, to almost revel in it.

I’m guilty, too. I dived into this story since I first learned of Brooks’ arrest a week ago, fascinated by the serpentine progression of events and amazed at the behavior of those involved. And, yes, I mocked, I derided.

It was only after the RJ’s Ben Spillman published that interview with Brooks – and the “newspaper” inexplicably blew that picture up, even offering it for sale – that I realized just how spiraling out of control Brooks -- and the story – were. It’s time to apply the brakes, slow down and assess the human carnage here – and that which may have been avoided if Brooks had not been arrested last weekend, with 41 rounds of ammunition and a .357 revolver.

My disgust will linger for Brooks’ supposed mentor and friend, Ricki Barlow, who started the progression that led to his arrest, then denied he had any involvement and now is trying to make state Sen. Kelvin Atkinson look as if he cried wolf. But Barlow has to live with himself as someone who claims to be concerned about Brooks but has done little we can see to help him and has clammed up, hiding behind a lawyer’s statement.

(In stark contrast, Clark County Commissioner Lawrence Weekly's first reaction, as he tells it, was quite different when he heard about Brooks' troubles. Weekly says he sent a text to African-American leaders. "What do we do at this point?" Weekly said his message read. "How do we meet and help out this young man?" That, alas, did not occur.)

Meanwhile, Atkinson, after listening to Barlow talk about Brooks, called Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick and let her know the man (Brooks) she already knew was upset with her was agitated and driving around with a gun. We will never know, but how can anyone deny after seeing Brooks’ behavior during the last week that Atkinson may well have averted a tragedy that could have claimed more than one life.

It’s highly questionable whether Brooks should have been arrested under the law North Las Vegas police invoked last Saturday. But they also deserve credit – despite the criticism from Barlow – for getting Brooks off the streets.

He needs help. Everyone involved – even Barlow – knows this, so the events that led to him being taken to a treatment facility this weekend also should make us pause and be thankful nothing worse occurred. An incident involving a sword with a relative? How much more was it going to take before people realize he should not be among the public, much less in the Legislative Building amid people he thought were out to get him.

I don’t know Brooks well at all. He was a cipher in the Legislature since he was elected in 2010. And through the years, I had rarely heard a good word about him. But I don’t care about that now – and neither should anyone else.

This is a human tragedy unfolding very publicly because he is an elected official, someone who has snapped under whatever pressures he was feeling, who has lost at least partial contact with reality. It was scary at first, funny at second and now just sad.

And this should serve as a signal that against the backdrop of the post-Newtown debate over gun control and mental health, and what laws to pass and which ones to ignore, that the Gang of 63 should give some thought to addressing these issues. Mental health services have had a very small constituency in this state, and maybe this will change that.

I hope two longtime advocates for bolstered mental health services who are no longer in the Legislature, Randolph Townsend and Sheila Leslie, will speak up now to drive home this point. The procedure used to detain Brooks, known as a Legal 2000, is controversial and may need some re-evaluation.

But even more worthy of examination is the woeful lack of mental health services in Nevada and the depressing fact that they are often the first cut when times are tough. To his credit, Gov. Brian Sandoval talked about beefing up mental health services in his State of the State. But he and the Legislature need to do more, and Steven Brooks has given them a reason.

His career his over, but this could be the beginning of something important. Try not to laugh.