By Brian Panowich
Throughout my tenure as the columnist for “Scattered & Covered” here at Augusta Magazine, I have never used this wonderful platform they gave me for any kind of political commentary or to forward any sort of slanted hidden agenda — either to the left or the right. So, understand that I’m not about to start doing that now. With that in mind, please don’t let the title of this latest writing keep you from reading it through to the end for fear of being blasted with yet another opinion on this topic from a middle-aged white man who can’t relate to the current climate in this country.
Black lives matter.
Of course they do.
I don’t need to reiterate that point. It’s a given. Those three words are now a mantra and a nationwide movement due to the awkward silence they’ve received in the past from the rest of the population at large. That’s an ugly fact, so I’m not going to contribute anymore of my two cents as to why those words are being screamed through bullhorns right now. But I would like to take a stab at just one of the responses I’ve continuously heard, read or seen as some kind of retaliatory response to a statement that didn’t ask for, or doesn’t need or require, a verbal reply.
All lives matter. I know y’all have seen this one.
Those are the three words that have been rumbling around my head more than BLM and bother me enough to write about it. Some of the smartest people I know, friends of mine, people I look up to, and folks across the world who I’ve come to admire, have bullhorned that statement as well.
I get it. Because yes, all lives DO matter. It would be ridiculous, heartless and utter nonsense to think that everyone’s life doesn’t matter, despite who you are, what color you are or any of the many differences we have between us as human beings. We all matter. That’s not up for debate, and I don’t believe anyone with a beating heart would argue that point. So, the idea that “All lives matter” — and I think we can all agree — sounds like rallying around a phrase like, “Oxygen is good.”
But as a response to the movement now championed by the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter, that phrase is more than just irrelevant rhetoric — it also sounds cold, blinding and obtuse. Not because it isn’t true, but because it isn’t the point.
I’m going to try and break this down fireman style. I was a firefighter for both Richmond and Columbia counties. I spent a decade of my life as a public servant and a first responder to almost every inch of this town. I’ve been called out to some pretty horrific traffic accidents and have seen a lot of things that can change a person. I’ve seen physical pain up close and personal. I’m not going to talk about anything I actually saw or witnessed, but I will offer this hypothetical situation from that standpoint to possibly shed some light on why this argument should not be our community’s priority right now.
The tone drops, and me and my crew are dispatched to a multiple-car pileup on Mike Padgett Highway in Augusta or Washington Road in Evans. You choose. There are three people involved in the wreck when we arrive on the scene. Two of those people are pretty banged up. They have to be treated by EMS and need attention, but they are, for the most part, going to be OK. The third person involved, however, is trapped inside a crushed vehicle and bleeding out. After my crew assesses this information, how do you think my brothers and I are going to respond?
You are exactly right.
We are going to put every effort and all of our training into saving that one life. We are going to stop the bleeding before it’s too late. Now, does that mean that those other two injured people on the side of the road don’t matter? Of course not. But it does mean that if we don’t act quickly, and together — as a unit — this situation may end with one of us having to make a phone call that no one ever wants to make to the family of that person in the car — the one pleading to us for help.
That isn’t political, folks. That’s called triage.
And doctors, nurses, medics, police, firefighters, EMS and even the military have to make those difficult decisions every day. Triage isn’t a movement; it’s a way to save lives. It’s a way to prioritize what needs to be done in the moment as skilled professionals — and as human beings.
We solve the problem at hand. We stabilize the wounded. We make sure their life is in good hands, and stays that way, before we walk away. And then we move on to the next problem — rinse and repeat.
And thank God, we have the courage and the stamina as a country to get that difficult job done — that is, if we can all stop with the talking, the arguing — and the nonsense — and just get to work.
Thank you for reading this. It means you are now part of my crew. And your life matters to me.
Appears in the August/September 2020 issue of Augusta Magazine.