In the 1970s and 1980s, nearly every movie that was set in New York City begins with an establishing shot of a graffiti-covered subway. In an article and podcast episode that describes this and the New York Transit authorities attempts at cleaning up the subway it writes:
That graffiti was like illegible technicolor hieroglyphics—a language that even most New Yorkers couldn’t read. It gave you a sense that the subways controlled by wild gangs of teenagers. And they kind of were. – 99% Invisible
The sense in these scenes is that the city officials had lost control of the subway. And they had.