ROANOKE -- Larry Wayne Ballard's badly beaten body was surrounded by 50 young blacks when police arrived in the 11th Street corridor of Northwest Roanoke.

"If it wasn't for the police, I would have been killed," said Ballard, 29, who is white. In the June 10 incident, the Roanoke man was clubbed into unconsciousness with a baseball bat.

Ballard's beating is the most serious of more than a dozen recent attacks on white victims by black youths congregating along 11th Street, sometimes in groups of 200 or more. Cars with white drivers have been pelted with stones and bottles thrown by people in the crowds.

It is unclear what caused the incidents, which have occurred in the predominantly black area of the city. What is clear is that the confrontations have forced this city of 100,000 in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Southwest Virginia to wrestle with problems more commonly associated with larger cities such as Washington.

Local leaders are concerned about the need for additional recreational programs for young people and the absence of parental supervision. They are worried about the issues of minority achievement, teenage pregnancy, and alcohol and drug abuse by youths.

Some leaders, remembering that Roanoke is a decidedly southern town where racial tolerance was slow in coming, fear that isolated incidents could explode into wider racial conflict.

"I'd like to think that we have reached the state where it couldn't {happen}, but I know better," said Roanoke Police Chief M. David Hooper.

City Council member Elizabeth Bowles said she believes the incidents were related to drug sales. There was some racism involved, she said, "to the extent that it is an area whites don't typically enter at night."

Donald Caldwell, commonwealth's attorney for Roanoke, said he does not believe that the incidents were racially motivated, but that they were the work of "hoods." Although most victims to date have been white, Caldwell said he believes the black attackers would not hesitate to victimize blacks as well.

"Roanoke is like every other city. It has inner-city problems," said Caldwell. "There are few employment opportunities for these kids. Some don't have much in the way of skills. Some have little parental guidance. When you combine that with drugs, there are going to be problems."

The city chapter of the NAACP has charged that the local news media have sensationalized the incidents. Local NAACP President Evangeline Jeffrey also maintains that the attacks have not been racially motivated, and said blacks have been the victims of assaults and bottle-throwing as well.

Black victims have not reported the incidents because they fear reprisal from drug dealers in the crowds and because they don't trust the police, she said.

Some blacks point to the fact that there are only eight black officers on the city's 240-member force as evidence of insensitivity. Roanoke is 22 percent black. Blacks make up 65 percent of the city jail population.

"I don't think that not having black police officers makes a department insensitive," Hooper said. "Would we prefer to have more black officers? Yes. Have we been aggressive in recruiting blacks? Yes."

Although some people have expressed concern about the police department's relations with blacks, they acknowledge that the recent attacks are more immediately troubling.

At 12:10 a.m. on a recent Thursday, a crowd of 30 people milled along 11th near a grocery store. Some people were drinking beer and wine coolers; others were huddled in a parking lot listening to music. Two girls who appeared to be 12 or 13 talked with four young men.

"I don't think this is a single-issue problem, and I don't think there is one solution," said Mayor Noel Taylor, who said race relatons in the city are good.

Taylor, who became the city's first black mayor in 1975, said he is considering forming a human relations commission that would examine what happened on 11th Street and youth issues in general.

"Why would 200 to 300 young people be hanging out in the street at that time of the morning?" Taylor asked.

Natasha Dudley, 17, said black young people are bored, looking for excitement.

"People come there just to socialize, to hang out," said Dudley, who sometimes visits the area at night. "Nobody wants to be in at 11 during the summer. The trouble starts when everybody gets to drinking, buzzing."

City parks close shortly after 11 p.m. There are city-organized youth activities during the summer, but none in the late evening. Some black leaders say young people need recreational outlets, but should not be on the streets until the early morning hours with drug dealing going on around them.

"The drug dealers are right there behind these kids," said the Rev. Carl Tinsley, associate minister of Pilgrim Baptist Church.

"Parents need to ask where their children are," said Marion Crenshaw, youth planner for the city. "Where are the parents? If they are strung out or in trouble, then we need to know."

Basil Bratton, 23, said he is worried because so many young black men have turned to drug dealing.

"A lot of these kids, I knew when they were babies," said Bratton, who manages a local fast-food restaurant. "You try to talk to them and they flash all this money."

John Chapman, 46, a social worker, said the easy availability of drugs in Roanoke, especially crack, frightens him.

"My kids can walk down certain streets and tell me who is dealing," he said. Chapman said he constantly reminds his 18-year-old son to stay away from the dealers.

On a recent tour of the area, Tinsley turned his car at 12th and Moorman. "This is known as Crack Alley," he said.

A few minutes later he was cruising down Harrison Avenue. "They sell drugs on some of these corners 24 hours a day," said Tinsley, as three men standing on a corner glared.

Roanoke recorded 288 drug arrests in the first six months of 1990, significantly more than during comparable periods in the early 1980s.

"The majority of people here are everyday, hard-working people," Tinsley said. "But some live in fear. See that old woman sitting on her porch? She's afraid to come off that porch and walk the streets."

Fifty to 100 residents of northwest Roanoke marched against drugs in their neighborhood last Saturday; meanwhile, community leaders are working to establish a late evening basketball league.

In addition, Total Action Against Poverty, a private, nonprofit organization created to improve conditions for the poor, plans to begin sending representatives to the streets to meet with young people.

"We've got to form a bridge between these youths and whatever resources that are available," said Correlli Rasheed, the group's director of outreach. "We have to provide encouragement so they can make the right decisions."

But making the right decisions in the environment of the 11th Street corridor is difficult, some suggested.

As in the rest of the United States, about half of the city's blacks live below the poverty level, according to officials of the nonprofit group. The 1980 Census showed that less than a third of the blacks 25 and older living in three areas around 11th street had completed high school.

According to government statistics, 125 babies were born to black females ages 15 to 19 in Roanoke in 1988. White females 15 to 19 -- a group nearly three times as large -- gave birth to 126 babies.

Such figures have some blacks wondering whether integration has brought progress.

Tinsley shook his head as he drove through the dilapidated Henry Street section of the city, just across the Norfolk Southern Railway tracks, less than two miles from 11th street.

"You see, we {blacks} used to have to live on this side of the tracks," Tinsley said. "Henry Street was the place there were black barbershops, a black hotel . . . . There was the Ebony Club. Duke Ellington, he even came there.

"You used to be able to walk anywhere in Northwest, never lock your doors."