Last night at around 9pm as my wife, my brother and I were in our apartment watching a movie, a large man was prowling around our patio in the dark. We first heard him when he tried to open our sliding glass door.

I quickly threw on my shoes, opened the front door and stepped out onto the balcony. I asked him what was going on and why he was there. He said “Nothing, sorry” and walked past me toward the stairs (I live on a second story corner apartment.) My wife called the police. The man was obviously under the influence of narcotics, which made him lumber slowly but methodically; he then walked down the stairs and sat at the bottom. I asked if I could help him, and he said no. My wife and my brother went the other direction up the stairs to get out of harm’s way and wait for the police, while I stood by the front door.

The police didn’t arrive for another 45 minutes. During the next half hour, the man went up and down the stairs a few more times, once trying to come back toward the front door. Each time I asked if I could help him and he said “no.” Finally he took a call from a friend, and his confused conversation seemed to indicate he was at the wrong building. I surmised which building he was looking for, asked him if he was looking for that address, and when he nodded yes I gave him directions.

The police didn’t arrive until 10 minutes after he had left for good. Which is unfortunate, less for my sake than for the intruder’s.

Had I been a different person–a “gun enthusiast”, let us say–the man might be dead or seriously injured. It would have been an unjustifiable homicide against a mostly innocent man for the crime of being high and lost. Many people all across America die or are horribly injured that way all the time.

That’s unconscionable. Most encounters that end in tragedy need not have done so. Last night was just another reminder of that.

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Follow David on Twitter @DavidOAtkins. David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.